Family separation isn’t complicated; it’s wrong

6 years ago

Immigration is a complicated issue with countless complicated problems, from increased border security to the status of DACA recipients who have only ever known this country. (By the way, I support both improving our border security and offering a path to citizenship for DACA recipients, and co-authored a bipartisan compromise doing both of those things earlier this year.)

But what we’ve seen unfold at the border these past several weeks — the separation of children from their parents — isn’t complicated; it’s just wrong. There’s no way to possibly justify this practice, which has split up thousands of families, but that hasn’t stopped the administration from trying to defend it. I’ve heard a number of arguments in support of these separations, but not one of them passes the straight-face test.

First, various administration officials have tried to justify this practice by saying “we’re just following the law.” This is simply incorrect — this horrific practice is not required by law. This is a policy decision; one adopted by the administration in April and implemented in May. Since then, this policy has brought us to the place where more than 2,000 children have been forcibly separated from their parents. The vast majority of these families are fleeing violence or persecution in their home countries, and have a legal right to seek asylum in our nation but are being unfairly lumped in with illegal immigrants.

The next justification I’ve heard is that this policy of separating children from their parents will deter others from attempting to cross the border, which I take issue with on two points. First of all, most of these would-be asylum seekers are people from Central America, and are fleeing cities and towns that have the highest murder rates in the world for a sliver of hope of a better life in America. They’ve decided to take this incredibly dangerous journey, with their children, not for economic reasons but for survival reasons — these parents do not know if their kids will survive the kind of violence they face in their countries. While there certainly is a good deal of rhetoric about how this could stop people from attempting to come into America, there is no data-driven evidence to suggest separation is a deterrence. Second, if we justify this inhumane treatment as a way to achieve deterrence, then could we justify any inhumane treatment? Officials could just as easily say, “we’ll torture you if you come across the border” — that would also be a deterrent, but it doesn’t make it right.

I’ve also heard an argument that this policy is an attempt to gain leverage; that the administration is planning to use these separated children as a bargaining chip to kick-start negotiations on immigration policy. I reject this one out of hand: America does not take children hostage in legislative negotiations.

The final justification I’ve encountered is rooted in the Bible – an idea which offends me as a Christian. They point to a passage from Romans 13, which says you should obey the law – but the Bible also says that the law should be based on love. (As an aside: this particular passage was also used 150 years ago to justify slavery — wrong then, and wrong now.)

Instead, let us look to Matthew 25: the King said, “For I was a stranger and you invited me in.” And of course, it goes without saying that Joseph and Mary escaped the threat of violence from King Herod into Egypt. They were asylum seekers and Egypt took them in — imagine if they had been returned to Herod because “that was the law”?

I’ve heard from thousands of Maine people on this subject, who are angry and scared. I’ve heard from good people who feel powerless to help and who simply cannot figure out how we even got here.

Have we forgotten our history or abandoned its lessons? The Pilgrims were asylum seekers. The Catholics who came to Maryland were asylum seekers. The Irish who came here as a result of the famine were asylum seekers. The list goes on, and this innately American value is written in stone on the Statue of Liberty: give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

The Administration’s policy created an unnecessary crisis, and while I’m glad that the president has recognized that he had the power to end family separation on his own, this is not a long-term fix and there are still serious questions about how families will be reunified. I know that we, as a Nation, can find a way to both protect our border and protect children and families seeking asylum — and in doing so, remain consistent with our national values.