I keep hearing the same questions lately about the family separations at the border. Why so much energy now? Didn’t Obama do the same thing? Isn’t it just the Trump haters looking for anything and everything that he is doing wrong? There seems to be plenty of confusion about this sensitive and divisive issue, but one that concerns many. Politicians and pundits like to muddy the water surrounding issues like this for whatever reasons suit them best at the time. It’s hard to cut through the noise. Here’s a few things that might clear it up.
- No immigration laws have changed. A zero-tolerance policy was put it place.
There’s a big difference between a law and a policy. A law is a system of rules that are enforceable by a government. A policy is the method in which a law is enforced. For example, the speed limits are set by the law. We all know that you can drive 5 or 10 over the speed limit without getting pulled over. I’ve heard stories of people getting out of tickets just by explaining to the officer what’s going on, although that has never happened to me, ha! That is because the policy in place is that the police officer can use his/her discretion in this situation. It would be well within the rights of the sheriff to enforce a zero-tolerance policy for speeding requiring all officers to ticket and prosecute every person that exceeds the speed limit, even by 1 mph.
This decision would have huge consequences even though there was no change to the law.
- Jails would fill up
- Courts would be overrun with cases
- There would be no room for impounded cars
- Children would be separated from parents
- Police resources would have to be reallocated to patrolling the streets with more scrutiny.
It doesn’t take a vote to change a policy. Policies are changed by the person running an agency. That is why when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a ‘zero-tolerance policy on criminal illegal entry’ it created a crisis at the border. Officers at the border were no longer able to use their own discretion on the misdemeanor charge of crossing the border.
All people, regardless of reason, were detained, child removed, and charged with a crime creating the bottleneck issue I illustrated above. Where do we detain all these people? How do we get them through the already stressed immigration court? How do we pay for it? Is it worth allocating all these resources to a fragment of the overall immigration problem? They have since pulled back the zero-tolerance policy.
In past administrations, prosecutions were reserved for repeat offenders, criminals returning to US after deportation or people suspected of human trafficking. Officers were able to use their own judgement to decide what to do with people crossing the border. If it was decided that someone was going to be criminally prosecuted and they had children with them, they would be separated. At the end of 2017 there were just over 7000 kids in the care of Health and Human Services, many of which were minors that crossed the border without parents. In the span of 5 weeks over 2200 children were added to that count as a result of the zero-tolerance policy. Reports came out that said the government was anticipating 30,000 by the end of summer. I believe this number, along with reports of cruel treatment of the migrants, is part of what caused the national outrage.
Push factors are things that would cause a person to leave their country of origin. Some of the push factors causing people from Central America to come to the border are gang violence, poverty and drought. Pull factors are things that would draw people to the US. One major pull factor is migrants are able to stay in the US until they see their day in court. That can take over 650 days. The US is going to have to work with the governments of El Salvador and others if there is any chance of stopping the migration northward. In the meantime, we need comprehensive reform which could include many more immigration judges to help move cases through the courts more quickly.
The protest on Saturday was about stopping the inhumane treatment of people at the border. It isn’t worth further traumatizing people who have already decided making this journey is better than what they left behind. There are many things we can do to reform the immigration system. Holding people captive shouldn’t be one of them. I marched on Saturday because I believe we should take an empathetic approach to immigration reform rather than an ‘us vs them’ mentality.