By Michelle Martin, PhD, MSs, MSW
I’ve been blogging about the humanitarian crisis involving Central American migrant families separated at the U.S. border for months now, and I along with so many others in the United States and around the world, have been trying to find an explanation, some type of rationale for the Trump administration’s handling of the political asylum seekers coming across the southwest border. After reviewing all the pleadings in the federal case filed against the government by the ACLU, as well as many of Trump’s speeches related to immigration, I think I may now have a better understanding. I think I have insight into his and his closest advisors’ perspectives on political asylum; their ultimate, buried-under-the-rhetoric ideology, so to speak.
Trump let his real agenda slip out in a recent speech. The scene was the Cabinet Room, a historic meeting room at the White House. The setting, a luncheon with Republican members of Congress. Trump began his speech by referencing the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold his “Muslim ban,” calling it a victory for the Constitution.
Although there is great variation in the opinions of immigration policy experts on the most effective way of managing cross border migration, throughout this speech, Trump presents the immigration debate in simplistically polarized terms: Republican want closed border and low crime, and Democrats want to open the floodgates to gang members and murderers, stating,
What about the Children? An Update on the Status of the Central American Families Separated at the Border
By Michelle Martin, PhD, MSW
There are many questions people are asking about the humanitarian crisis involving the Central American immigrants who were separated from their children at the border in this past year, including 1) Who are the families involved? 2) How are the children being treated? 3) Are there any financial incentives involved in detaining asylum-seekers? 4) Aren’t a lot of these children trafficked? And, 5) Will all the families be reunited?
In preparation for writing this blog post, I conducted a considerable amount of research, including reviewing public documents received from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, reading all pleadings in the ACLU lawsuit filed against the government in March 2018 when the separations began, and other relevant documents. This post represents a summary of key issues related to the family separations, as well as outlining the potential path forward.
Who are the Families Involved?
According to President Trump, the Central American families who were separated from their children at the border are for the most part gang members and other criminals, including murderers. But is this accurate?
I watched the White House Press Briefing today with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. I took notes as best as I could so I could later respond, while furiously posting comments online, and clicking the angry face emoji 😡 every five seconds. I found Nielsen to be very defensive and angry. This could have been because she knew she was lying, but my instincts told me that it was more likely because she believes she's correct and is outraged to be so misunderstood. Quite likely it was a combination of the two, and perhaps she's just furious that she's in this place to begin with. Who really knows. But her general disdain and disregard for these traumatized families was apparent to me, and I kept wondering if she had ever gone through hardship, because regardless of what one's thoughts are on border protection, all of our hearts should be breaking in half.
What I do know though is that most of the information Nielson shared was
There is so much misinformation out there about the Trump administration's new "zero tolerance" policy that requires criminal prosecution, which then warrants the separating of parents and children at the southern border. As a professor at a local Cal State, I research and write about these issues, so here, I wrote the following to make it easier for you:
Myth 1: This is not a new policy and was practiced under Obama and Clinton - FALSE.
The policy to separate parents and children is new and was instituted on 4/6/2018. It was the “brainchild” of John Kelly and Stephen Miller to serve as a deterrent for undocumented immigration, and some allege to be used as a bargaining chip. The policy was approved by Trump, and adopted by Sessions. Prior administrations detained migrant families, but didn’t have a practice of forcibly separating parents from their children unless the adults were deemed unfit. Here is the memo.
Myth 2: This is the only way to deter undocumented immigration: FALSE.
Annual trends show that arrests for undocumented entry are at a 46 year low, and undocumented crossings dropped in 2007, with a net loss (more people leaving than arriving). Deportations have increased steadily though (spiking in 1996 and more recently), because several laws that were passed since 1996 have made it more difficult to gain legal status for people already here, and thus increased their deportations (I address this later under the myth that it's the Democrats' fault). What we mostly have now are people crossing the border illegally because they've already been hired by a US company, or because they are seeking political asylum. Economic migrants come to this country because our country has kept the demand going. But again, many of these people impacted by Trump's "zero tolerance" policy appear to be political asylum-seekers. Here is an article describing how arrests for undocumented crossings are at an all-time low: https://www.npr.org/2017/12/05/568546381/arrests-for-illegal-border-crossings-hit-46-year-low
Dr. Michelle Martin is a social worker, policy specialist and Assistant Professor at California State University, Fullerton in the Department of Social Work, where she teaches social welfare policy, and researches dynamics related to immigrants, political asylum-seekers, refugees and other displaced populations.
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