A month ago today, Trump signed an Executive Order that supposedly ended his zero-tolerance policy of forced separation for parents and children crossing the border. It’s tempting to assume that this solved the problem, but so far, this order has not brought all the separated families back together, and has created a whole host of other issues.
Yesterday, the Administration submitted a court filing claiming it had already reunited 364 immigrant children between the ages of 5 and 17 with their parents, and many children under the age of 5 who were separated and detained have indeed been reunited. In addition, the Administration claimed that it had interviewed and cleared 848 parents for reunification. However, according to Judge Dana Sabraw’s order, all of these reunifications have to be completed by next Thursday. And so far, that hasn’t happened.
On Wednesday, just a week before the deadline, immigration officials who testified before the House Judiciary Committee offered few answers on what comes next for these families upon reunification. They could not say how many of them would be detained or released, or provide policies on how parents were permitted to speak to their children if held in separate facilities. The Executive Order promised to reunite them, but added the stipulation that they would have to be detained together before being shifted to immigration custody.
This creates a big problem. The impetus behind the Executive Order was to reverse the Flores Settlement, a decision which came out of the case Flores v. Reno. In 1985, Jenny Lisette Flores, an El Salvadorian who was mistreated while being kept in a detainment facility, sued the United States with the help of the ACLU. The Flores Settlement made it so that immigrant minors, when detained, were kept in unrestrictive conditions and released as soon as a parent/relative, friend, or legally appointed guardian was found to take them in – preferably right away. In 2015, Obama detained whole families together in an attempt to expedite the deportation process, but a judge ruled that this violated the Flores settlement.
Now, Trump wants to modify the decision, with the DOJ seeking a “limited exemption” for ICE to detain minors with their families in their detention facilities. This would reunite the families, but it would do nothing except keep them in holding longer, as the process of sending them back to their home countries or resettling them could take from 12-15 months. It would cost taxpayers more money, as it would require building more detention facilities – ones which may not fit the specifications required by Flores.
A reversal of Flores would allow Trump to continue keeping children in horrendous conditions, and if you don’t know how bad it is, read this Twitter thread from Texas Tribune reporter Emma Platoff, who is posting the writings of detained children:
A 10-year-old from Honduras describes her experience in federal custody (from a court filing) pic.twitter.com/4zsPEOujVy
— Emma Platoff (@emmaplatoff) July 19, 2018
When Trump kicked off his campaign three long years ago, he claimed that Mexicans were bringing “drugs and crime” into our country. Ironically, his border policies policies are increasing the amount of crime at the border rather than decreasing it. In this CNN article, a father separated from his son recalls his experience with smugglers. Now that the cost for migrant passage into the US has jumped up to $12,000, the demand for smugglers has grown with it, many of whom have connections to various Latin American cartels. Once the migrants have handed over their money, the smugglers can then redistribute it through their networks. The dollars of innocent people who just want safe passage to this country could be used for drug trafficking. It’s a horrifying thought.
Then again, these are all horrifying thoughts, ones which we don’t want to harbor but which we have to. Even though they all may seem disconnected they all stem from Trump’s initial motivation in his campaign: to kick Latinos out of this counry. No matter how angry we get at him for other things, we cannot forget the fact that even with this executive order in place, there are still children who may never see their families again, and the psychological damage he has inflicted on them will be impossible to repair.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.