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The complicated legal entanglements regarding illegal immigrants who get caught trying to bring their children to the United States have been reduced, more or less, to two separate sets of opinions: either separating children from their mothers while their cases are adjudicated is a human rights violation like never before or we should enforce the law until the problems with it are fixed by Congress.
Part of the great irony with the first argument is that many of the luminaries speaking out against enforcing what they see as unjust laws are associated with the individuals who passed the laws in the first place.
One of these individuals is Laura Bush, who penned a much-ballyhooed op-ed in The Washington Post in which she decried the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
“On Sunday, a day we as a nation set aside to honor fathers and the bonds of family, I was among the millions of Americans who watched images of children who have been torn from their parents,” Bush wrote in the piece published Sunday night.
“In the six weeks between April 19 and May 31, the Department of Homeland Security has sent nearly 2,000 children to mass detention centers or foster care. More than 100 of these children are younger than 4 years old. The reason for these separations is a zero-tolerance policy for their parents, who are accused of illegally crossing our borders.
“I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”
If it breaks her heart, perhaps she should have been blaming her husband. Late in his second term, former President George W. Bush signed a law that was likely well-intentioned but has added to the problems faced by the Trump administration in enforcing their “zero tolerance” policy without separating parents and children.
On Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders noted this during her news briefing.
“We’re not the ones responsible for creating this problem. We’ve inherited it,” she added. “But we’re actually the first administration stepping up and trying to fix it.”
Sanders to Laura Bush: "Frankly this law was actually signed into effect in 2008 under her husband's leadership. Not under this administration" pic.twitter.com/PFxfi5eFtU
— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) June 18, 2018
The law she was referring to, assumedly, was the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, which requires formal deportation hearings for child immigrants who aren’t from Mexico or Canada and don’t have family in the United States.
The intention was that it would stop child sex trafficking, but one of the unintended problems has come now that family units from Central American countries besides Mexico are making up the bulk of new illegal immigrants.
In most cases, as The New York Times noted in one story about a Guatemalan woman who was repatriated to her country of origin without her child, most first-time illegal immigrants who don’t seek asylum plead out their case in an expedited manner and are sentenced to time served, then deported.
However, due to federal law, children can’t go through expedited hearings, instead requiring formal deportation hearings. Thus, while the parent might be repatriated to their home country, the child remains back until their case works their way through clogged courts.
This is just one of a maze of laws and court rulings, some of which are meant to do good but all of which have made it more difficult to actually enforce the law and secure our border.
There are obviously ways to fix this without jeopardizing border security and ensuring that parents aren’t separated from their children for elongated periods of time. Still, those who bear some responsibility for the the maze shouldn’t pretend that this is all on Trump. This is the result of an agglomeration of bad legislation and an unwillingness to touch illegal immigration.
Instead of lamenting it in high-profile op-eds, perhaps they ought to be writing about how to fix it beyond just blaming the president and demanding he stop enforcing the law.
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