“Yay, no more baby internment camps, just regular internment camps! Ha ha ha, cool! That’s what we call a win in 2018.” Samantha Bee, 06/20/2018.
Yes, separating toddlers from families was horrible, and we’re glad it’s allegedly over (although we’ll wait to make sure it really is over, and we’ll also wait to make sure those kids who’ve already been ripped from their families get back to them somehow, some way). But we’re still going to have internment camps, as Samantha Bee noted, because the root of the problem is actually the “zero-tolerance” policy itself. And that draconian policy continues unabated. (Maybe — see below for an update.)
Through the policy designed by John Kelly and Stephen Miller and promulgated by Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, the current administration is now criminalizing the request for asylum. Because there are not enough staff processing entries and asylum requests at the official ports of entry between the US and Mexico, families running away from violence and death threats in Central America are forced to cross into the US at other points along the border, to avoid being deported by Mexico and getting sent back to Central America. Crossing the border at a point other than an official port of entry is technically an illegal entry, but the families seeking asylum search for US immigration officials immediately and identify themselves, asking for asylum. What they want is to gain the protection traditionally offered by our nation (and many others) to persons fleeing danger.
Under “zero-tolerance”, however, these families are then arrested and treated as criminals, when all they’ve done is commit a misdemeanor. In previous administrations, this “offense” was not deemed worthy of criminal prosecution, and the potential asylees were released under supervision and asked to return for court dates. According to NPR’s Morning Edition (06/21/2018), statistics from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) show over 99% of these prospective asylees with alternate supervision have met their court dates. So alternate supervision works.
But under the current administration, that’s not “tough enough”, because cruelty is our new standard. Brown people, even babies and toddlers, must suffer. Even if they aren’t separated from their parents, living in internment camps or prisons will exact a terrible toll on these innocent children and their families. Zero tolerance is a cruel policy, created by officials who see those with black or brown skin seeking shelter as less than human. This criminalization of persons fleeing terror must end. We must all put ourselves in the shoes of these Central American families and ask ourselves what we would do in their places.
As I completed this essay, I came across a Washington Post article by Nick Miroff, “Border Patrol will stop referring migrant parents who cross into the U.S. illegally with children for prosecution, official says” (06/21/2018, 12:00 Eastern). Although the unnamed official from Customs & Border Protection said CBP would temporarily refrain from referring parents with children for criminal prosecution, an official from the Justice Department said the zero-tolerance policy remains in effect. This immediate confusion demonstrates why we must continue to speak out against the draconian immigration policies, especially the zero-tolerance policy, of this administration. On the immigration issue, which offers such rich benefits to the current president in terms of exciting his base with racist themes, events will always move faster than we can monitor them. And we cannot ever trust this administration to tell us the truth about what is really happening with families of color fleeing terror.
For those reasons, please join us for the rally in Downers Grove on June 30 to protest what the current administration does to dehumanize persons of color and immigrants. The rally is tentatively scheduled for 4:00 until 5:30 at the Downers Grove North Main Street parking lot. Be there!
June 21, 2018
Deb Pierce worked with immigration regulations during her entire career in international education.