Backlash intensifies against US migrant family separations

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US-Mexico border

The child migrant crisis at the US-Mexico border is intensifying, as the Trump administration remains reluctant to take responsibility for (or end) its policy of separating young children from their parents despite a fierce international outcry.

Widespread condemnation of US President Trump has greeted the recent flood of pictures and audio evidence of forcibly abandoned children crying for their parents. Children are being held in fenced enclosures that many witnesses are describing as cages. Steve Doocy from Fox News (a loyal source of Trump support) insists they are “warehouses with walls built of chain-link fences”; other supporters are calling them ‘shelters’.

The ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to illegal immigration means that anyone crossing the border is immediately arrested and detained until they obtain a legal judgement, which mostly ends in deportation.

Since children are not allowed to be held in adult jails, they are corralled in a different space away from their parents and processed as unaccompanied minors. Children are then streamed into a separate legal process; because their cases are a lower priority, it could be years until their status is settled one way or another. The former director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), John Sandweg, expects that hundreds of children will never reunite with their parents as a result of current policy.

Experts in child development have emphasised the trauma inflicted on the children. Reports have emerged that show the lack of information and support being given to parents. A particularly harrowing account told of parents being informed that their child was being taken away for a bath – only to be told half an hour later that they would not see them again.

Under previous presidents, families of immigrants crossing the border without official paperwork tended to be issued with summonses for court, rather than be detained and split up. Trump vowed to end the exceptions made under this ‘catch and release’ policy and take a much more punitive approach to all immigration. A Reuters/Ipsos poll suggests that as much as 28% of the American public supports the separation policy.

The Trump administration has defended the separations in several ways, claiming that it’s necessary for national security. Blame is also placed on the parents for putting their children in this position by illegally crossing borders with them. Many are refugees fleeing violence. Trump has also claimed that he’s merely enforcing an Obama-era policy, but it is his White House policies that are criminalising border crossings to this extent and triggering family break-ups.

Trump insists that the only way to end the crisis is through Congress, putting pressure on the institution to agree to a slew of terms in exchange for a relaxation of policy at the border. This has sparked anger over the appearance that his administration is effectively holding children hostage for political concessions. The House of Representatives is due to vote on an immigration bill later this week that would limit family separations but allocate $25 billion for a US-Mexico wall, which was promised in Trump’s presidential campaign.

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