Move away from cruel border policy that takes kids from parents

Not since President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order forcing Japanese Americans into concentration camps during World War II has the U.S. pursued a federal domestic policy as contrary to its principles as the current strategy of separating children from parents at the border.

It results from the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of criminally prosecuting all adults suspected of crossing the border into the United States illegally. Since authorities cannot detain children with their parents in federal jails, they remove children to separate holding facilities.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers have taken thousands of children from parents during the past coulpe of months the get-tough policy has been in place.

Compounding the inhumanity of this approach is the reality that the federal agencies are overwhelmed and ill equipped to care for these orphaned children. News reporters and other observers given brief access to some of these facilities report children kept in fenced-in enclosures — essentially cages — inside converted warehouses and department stores. Thin mattresses, resting on concrete floors, provide their only comfort.

When announcing the approach in early May, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions referred to its deterrent value.

"If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don't like that, then don't smuggle children over our border,” Sessions said at a May 7 law enforcement conference in Arizona.

Firstly, there is no evidence this will prove an effective deterrent. Secondly, this is a case of the means not justifying the intended ends.

The American public finds the policy appalling.

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from Manhattan and the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, has offered up a straight-forward piece of legislation, co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, which would put an end to the practice.

The “Keep Families Together Act” would prohibit separation of parents and children taken into custody within 100 miles of the border except in cases of human trafficking. For currently separated families, it would require weekly monitoring of a child’s condition and weekly telephone contact with parents. It would also demand development of procedures to help parents locate and reunite with their children.

While Republicans in the House are unlikely to grab on to a Democratic initiative, offering similar legislation could send a signal to the White House that the party needs an off ramp from an unpopular policy that could further damage its electoral prospects in this year’s midterm elections.

President Trump says he wants a comprehensive immigration bill, with funding for his border wall, before he moves away from the current policy. But waiting for that to happen could both perpetuate the policy and prove to be a major political miscalculation.

Granted, a continuing influx of families from Central America, fleeing violence and a hopeless future for their kids, presents a very difficult challenge for this administration as it has past ones.

Going back to his campaign, President Trump has criticized as a “catch and release” approach the interception of undocumented immigrants at the border, followed by their release pending their court appearances, only to see many not return.

Trump has sought to shift blame from his administration’s new approach by contending it is the result of a Democratic law. That’s a lie.

Long term, progress lies in passage of smart immigration reform legislation. Such a plan would provide a path to legal status for immigrants who entered the nation unlawfully, but who have since proven to be lawful, productive residents.

It would secure the safe, permanent legal status of the so-called Dreamers, young adults who were brought here as children by their parents, but whose ability for advancement is limited by their non-documented status.

Congress must better fund the courts hearing these cases and address backlogs that stretch for months and even years. And instead of separating and jailing families, the courts could use ankle-monitoring and other technologies to better follow these immigrants and assure they show up for their court dates.

And, yes, comprehensive reform should include funding to improve border security. This should not mean construction of a physical wall from sea to sea, which would be immensely expensive, environmentally damaging and of questionable deterrent value. Instead, the U.S. should improve barriers where it makes sense while using new technologies to better monitor movement.

America is better than this policy of taking children from parents. There is nothing great in acting cruelly.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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