Yesterday, out of 705 protests against Trump’s immigration policies, I attended the largest: over 50,000 in Chicago. Several people asked why I was marching, and I responded by talking about my students, many of whom are undocumented or come from mixed status families. I talked about participating in ICE raid trainings alongside active shooter trainings and how I saw my somewhat cynical high school students become fearful even though we all knew these were drills. I talked about American values and the kind of country I want to live in or at least be able to pursue. I talked about human rights and the importance of cultivating compassion.
On the ride home, I began to think about how I might begin to explain the facts of the zero tolerance immigration policy and family separation to someone who wants to know more. What might I say to him or her? Educating others on this issue is so important. We all have to be able to talk about what is happening clearly and succinctly in order to show people what is happening in this country.
With that in mind, here is what I was able to glean from various national news sources that also prompted me to march and may help formulate an elevator speech or maybe a longer conversation:
• Between October 2016 and February 2018, 1,768 migrant children were separated from their parents at the border, meaning the practice of separation was in place prior to the Trump administration. The Department of Homeland Security will not release information about how many of those separations happened before and after Trump’s inauguration.
• The pilot program of separation policy began July 2017 to October 2017 in El Paso, Texas.
• Approximately 2,342 additional children were separated from their families between May 2018 and mid-June 2018 under the zero tolerance policy. Approximately 500 of those children have been reunited with their parents. Many people are concerned that there exists no clear method of tracking or system to return the rest of the children.
• Most of the families forced to separate are from the gang-ravaged Northern Triangle of Central America: Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The United States bears some of the blame for the state of these countries due to its constant meddling in their affairs, even supplying right-wing governments with money, resources, and military training to carry out wars against their own civilian population.
• Attorney General Jeff Sessions chose Romans 13 from the Bible to defend the policy; this chapter is has a history of being used to justify slavery, opposition to the American Revolutionary War, apartheid, and Nazi rule. He quoted part of the chapter, stating people must “…obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.”
• Most of the immigration prosecutions under this zero tolerance policy are for one of the less serious crimes in the U.S. criminal court: a petty misdemeanor.
• The plan is to detain families together. The family detention system has a 2,700-person capacity. Trump has asked the Department of Defense for 12,000 additional beds. How this will all factor into the restrictions on children’s detention through the Flores agreement remains to be seen.
• All people who have crossed the United States-Mexico border without authorization are subject to criminal prosecution not administrative hearing. There is no distinction for people who tell an agent that they want to declare asylum.
• It is true that the Obama Administration did separate children from their families and prosecute parents criminally at times. Under Operation Streamline, though, through multiple presidencies, Border Patrol used discretion in separations and criminal prosecutions. They are no longer permitted to do this.
There are so many outstanding questions that it is hard to pick any one aspect of this issue to comment on.
For the children not yet reunited with their parents, if their parents have been deported, how will they be found? Does Washington have enough judges, lawyers, administrators, transport workers, and other personnel to handle the number of criminal cases that will be pending? Is there enough infrastructure?
What of long-term solutions? Have various government officials considered deeper policy needs such as strengthening Central American institutions? In other words, why people are coming here in the first place?
What of humanity, compassion, tolerance, respect, acceptance, rule of law, due process, empathy, American values, and “justice for all”?
What of you and me? Vote in November. Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist: keep loving, keep fighting.
Who is responsible for U.S. immigration policy?
G.O.P. moves to end Trump’s family separation policy but can’t agree how
Demonstrators rally in the Loop against separation of immigrant families
Trump admin ran ‘pilot program’ for separating migrant families in 2017
What we know about family separation at the border
The last zero tolerance border policy didn’t work
Here’s how hard it is to trace a migrant kid separated from his mom