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Border separations: on Trump and undocumented migrants

Starting around late 2017 and accelerating through 2018, the process of separating migrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border resulted in an angry public backlash against the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” approach to dealing with undocumented migrants. The President then ostensibly backed down on this policy, as a sense of dismay mounted over disturbing images and videos of screaming toddlers in the custody of Customs and Border Protection personnel, and of chain-link cages filled with children. But it now appears that the federal government has quietly resumed family separations, in many cases using “vague or unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing or minor violations against the parents… as justification.”

During the first phase of family separations, between October 2017 and May 2018, reports suggest that more than 2,000 children were separated from their parents. Now, based on information reported to members of Congress and subsequently reported in the media, it seems that 12,800 children were held in federally contracted shelters in September 2018. Updates to that figure in mid-December put the number at 15,000. The sheer numbers are not the entire story, however. Disturbing accounts have also surfaced of immigration officials arrested for the sexual abuse of children in their care, even though the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detention centres have denied responsibility for these violations.

Then matters took a turn for the worse. First, political pressure on the Trump administration soared after a caravan of more than 7,000 migrants from Central America made its way through Mexico and reached the U.S. border, only to be tear-gassed by law enforcement. Images of families with children fleeing caused outrage across the world. Second, Republicans lost the House of Representatives to Democrats in the midterm elections, leading to more tension on Capitol Hill over border policy, especially Mr. Trump’s proposal for the border wall. Third, and most tragic, two children, Jakelin Caal Maquin (7) and Felipe Gomez Alonzo (8), died in the custody of immigration officials in December leading to bitter recrimination on all sides. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen suggested that the families of the children were to blame for undertaking such an arduous crossing, while the families and human rights group alleged lack of custodial care for the children.

A potential way out of this politically tenuous, arguably inhumane border crackdown would be for the Trump administration to consider adopting the policy of “catch and release” — where migrant families would be released from custody pending their deportation case adjudication. Otherwise under a decree known as the Flores settlement, migrant children may not be held with their parents in immigration detention for more than 20 days, usually insufficient time for a ruling in the case.

The writer is an Associate Editor at The Hindu

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Printable version | Jan 14, 2021 9:07:26 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/border-separations/article25933798.ece

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