In a post this morning, J.E. Dyer effectively laid to rest the liberal myth that the policy of detaining minors intercepted at the southern border is uniquely Trumpian. A cornerstone of her evidence is a Washington Post article dated March 10, which places it squarely in Barack Obama’s second term. The piece, titled “Mexican kids held for months as punishment for border-crossing,” states that “young Mexicans are being held for months without charge in shelters across the United States, sometimes without their parents’ knowledge.”
Another WaPo article from June of the same year titled “Influx of minors across Texas border driven by belief that they will be allowed to stay in U.S.” quotes then-Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson as affirming that “those who cross our border today illegally, even children, are not eligible for an earned path to citizenship. Those apprehended at our borders are priorities for removal … regardless of age.”
The present post will explore another major myth: that the Trump administration created the policy of splitting up families at the border, sending children to one detention facility, parents to another. To emphasize Donald Trump’s monstrous inhumanity, the liberal media have been trumpeting all manner of horror stories, including the one highlighted in this tweet:
Infant ripped from mother's arms while she was breastfeeding the baby at border detention center; mother handcuffed for resisting https://t.co/vhbsGKrWLo
— Kasie Hunt (@kasie) June 13, 2018
The problem with these stories, though undeniably heart-wrenching, is that they muddy the truth that this type of thing has been going in for years but was rarely reported by news media that were as intent on glossing over Obama’s imperfections as they are on magnifying Trump’s.
As National Review’s Rich Lowry notes in an illuminating piece written in May:
The Trump administration isn’t changing the rules that pertain to separating an adult from the child. Those remain the same. Separation happens only if officials find that the adult is falsely claiming to be the child’s parent, or is a threat to the child, or is put into criminal proceedings.
There are, however, differences between the Obama administration’s approach to this disposition of migrants captured at the border and Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy:
The past practice had been to give a free pass to an adult who is part of a family unit. The new Trump policy is to prosecute all adults. The idea is to send a signal that we are serious about our laws and to create a deterrent against re-entry. (Illegal entry is a misdemeanor, illegal re-entry a felony.)
The laws themselves have remained unchanged. A migrant prosecuted for illegal entry is placed in the custody of U.S. Marshals. Because the federal marshal’s office has no provision for caring for the children of people taken into custody, the child is transferred into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, which places him in temporary shelters.
The criminal proceedings are exceptionally short, assuming there is no aggravating factor such as a prior illegal entity or another crime. The migrants generally plead guilty, and they are then sentenced to time served, typically all in the same day, although practices vary along the border. After this, they are returned to the custody of ICE.
If the adult then wants to go home, in keeping with the expedited order of removal that is issued as a matter of course, it’s relatively simple. The adult should be reunited quickly with his or her child, and the family returned home as a unit. In this scenario, there’s only a very brief separation.
Where it becomes much more of an issue is if the adult files an asylum claim. In that scenario, the adults are almost certainly going to be detained longer than the government is allowed to hold their children.
It’s far from an ideal situation, but then again this is far from a perfect world.