Sohn: Where is liberty for children in cages?

Sohn: Where is liberty for children in cages?

June 10th, 2018 by Opinion: Times in Opinion Times

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

Those are words inscribed on the base of our Statue of Liberty. The line comes from the Emma Lazarus' sonnet, New Colossus, which Lazarus wrote in 1883 for an auction to raise money for Lady Liberty's pedestal.

Imagine Lady Liberty's tears at the thought of more than 10,000 children ripped from their parents' arms and 1,500 of them now lost in our foster and detention systems, thanks to the Trump administration's new "zero tolerance" immigration policy.

Trump officials have said they are enforcing the law against people who are entering the country illegally, but the fact is that many of those families are seeking asylum and are following what our laws say to do to get it. They are arriving at the border and turning themselves in to authorities — only to find that the Trump administration has changed the rules.

Trump, the king of disconnect and misdirection, blames the inhumanity on Democrats — never mind that Trump enacted this new policy, and never mind that he refers to our neighbors in Mexico and Central America as "animals." But according to Trump tweet logic, "Separating families at the Border is the fault of bad legislation passed by the Democrats. Border Security laws should be changed but the Dems can't get their act together! Started the Wall."

This should get 100 Pinocchios. Trump's administration first put this abominable idea out a year ago, when Chief of Staff John Kelly, then secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said he was considering separating parents from their children as a deterrent to illegal immigration.

In early May, new Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen officially enacted the policy, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to pursue criminal charges against any and every person found or suspected of illegally crossing the border.

The result is that family separations at the border, though once a rarity, have now soared under President Trump, according to advocacy groups and immigration lawyers. What's more, the current DHS plan makes no special arrangements for those who claim asylum at the border — even if they haven't yet crossed the border.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in San Diego refused to dismiss an ACLU lawsuit challenging the practice of taking children from immigrants when they arrive to seek asylum, ruling that the "wrenching separation" of families may violate the Constitution's guarantees of due process. The judge did, however, dismiss a separate challenge claiming that the practice violates asylum laws — something the United Nations charged earlier.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California threw Trump's Democrats-are-to-blame argument right back at him, tweeting, "Separating children from their parents as a 'deterrent' is a deliberate cruelty. Pretending the law requires it is cowardly nonsense. You own this horrific policy."

Another Democrat, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, was barred from getting a look inside an immigration detention facility in Brownsville, Texas, where he was told that about 1,000 children were being held in a vacant Walmart. Officials at the facility even called the police on the senator.

Before that, Merkley had visited another detention and processing center at the McAllen Border Station. There, he was admitted, and he said he saw "hundreds of children locked up in cages." His description of the cages sounds not unlike large chain-link dog kennels, with concrete floors where the children lay on space blankets. The scenes he recalls mirror closely photos of similar facilities used to hold children — with their mothers — in 2014 under the Obama administration when there was a swell of immigrant children, many traveling alone, seeking asylum from gang terror in Central America. In 2015, U.S. courts ordered the release and improved treatment of those immigrants.

"My concern here is that our government is just completely whitewashing the challenges," Merkley said last week. "They lose track of where people are, but they don't want to admit it. They're treating children cruelly in ways that are just totally inappropriate and then say that they're trying to help the children. This is — this is not the America we know and love."

It certainly is not. No matter who the president is.

As for Trump's recent assertion that Americans should "Put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there [sic] parents once they cross the Border into the U.S." — well, bring out some more Pinocchios.

There is no law that mandates parents must be separated from their children at the border. Nor is there a similar policy that Democrats have pushed. As noted earlier, the "zero tolerance" policy comes straight from Trump's own administration.

There is a 2008 law, passed unanimously by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush, saying children traveling alone from countries other than Mexico or Canada must be released in the "least restrictive setting" — often to family or a government-run shelter — while their cases slowly wind through immigration court.

Instead, Trump's policy creates situations in which children find themselves alone in a strange land. A Customs and Border Protection official told lawmakers in late May that 658 children had been separated from their parents at the border between May 6 and May 19, after border agents began referring every illegal entry to criminal prosecutors. And that was in addition to hundreds more who were estimated to have been removed from their parents at the border since October.

Can't you hear Lady Liberty's sobs?


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