Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered federal prosecutors to file criminal charges against every person illegally crossing the border. In order to carry out the order he is sending 35 prosecutors and 18 immigration judges to the border states.
As part of this crackdown, Sessions says that kids will be separated from their parents and held in different detention facilities. “If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally.” That is certainly an enlightened, family-friendly policy.
Actually, John Kelly first floated the idea of separating kids from their parents last year when he was Homeland Security Secretary. His thought was that such a punitive measure might discourage others from seeking asylum in the U.S. I suppose another effective means of discouraging people from fleeing violence in their home countries would be to send their kids to the prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. That type of punishment would certainly discourage people.
It is hard to fathoms the depths to which our dear country has stooped in the immigration debate. We do need to have secure borders, but we have usually given people seeking asylum a reasonable chance to make their case before lowering the boom on them. Many of the border crossers have suffered great violence at home and would risk death if they were sent back.
Separating young kids from their parents and holding them apart from their parents is beyond the pale. Many of these kids have been traumatized in their homeland and on the arduous journey to our border. They don’t need the added trauma of being incarcerated separate and apart from their parents.
Although Sessions just announced the program on May 7, the Office of Refugee Resettlement reported last month that over 700 children, including 100 under the age of 4, have been separated at the border since last October. There does not appear to be any real policy for reuniting parents with their children.
Adding to the problem is the shortage of immigration judges. It is not like there are dozens of them sitting around with nothing to do. The immigration courts are jammed to the gills, resulting in long waits in detention for both parents and children. Currently, there are about a quarter million asylum cases pending in those courts.
Neither is there a large surplus of federal prosecutors. Those we do have would be much better employed going after drug dealers, terrorists, organized crime figures, white collar swindlers and other serious threats to the country’s health, safety, and economy. Diverting skilled prosecutors from important public business to go after low-level border crossers is a waste of valuable resources. But, then, Sessions is the guy who also wants to use this pool of crime fighters to stuff our prisons with low-risk drug offenders.
We can protect our borders without resorting to cruel measures that demean our country and traumatize innocent kids. America is better than that.
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Jim Jones is former Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court and a frequent contributor to the Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls Press.