Let’s get one thing clear – illegal immigration is illegal. No one’s arguing that it isn’t. Illegal immigration isn’t what this is about, though. Not entirely, at least.
President Trump has recently signed an executive order to end the separation of families seeking asylum in this country. More on that later.
The situation down at the US-Mexico border is tragic and heartbreaking. Even if you believe strongly that these people should not and cannot be let into our country, I don’t think any reasonable person would advocate for the separation of families, barring an abusive relationship between parent and child. One word that’s being heard a lot surrounding this controversy is “inhumane,” and I have to agree that the heavily flawed implementation our latest zero-tolerance policy is just that.
As with anything, though, this issue has been convoluted. The conversation has been deliberately steered in several different directions, many of which aren’t relevant to the chief complaint, nor are they conducive to finding a solution. People are having a hard time even defining the issue in the first place.
The problem here is not illegal immigration. Illegal immigrants are not the same thing as asylum seekers. The people who are being detained, prosecuted as criminals, and separated from their families at our borders are asylum seekers, not illegal immigrants.
We have to understand that distinction before continuing on any further.
Just to be clear, people seek asylum when the conditions in their own country, not of their own making, are unbearable. They can no longer safely live there. They risk a treacherous – and make no mistake, it is treacherous – journey to the Mexico-US border, most of them from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, in the hopes that someone at the border can and will help them. Just the chance of receiving any kind of help is worth the risk of the journey.
What are they running from? Cartels and gang violence. As children become young adults, the cartels try to recruit them. If they refuse to cooperate, they end up beaten, shot, and sometimes killed. Their families are threatened. The young children live amidst the violence. The economy is hurt because of the cartels, and the government is corrupt because of them. Out of desperation, the people flee.
Of course, there’s a process for seeking asylum in the United States. This seems to be where the confusion is rooted regarding asylum seeker versus illegal immigrant.
The entire process, from application to approval, usually takes place within 180 days, but that time can be expedited during extreme situations. Also, people can cross the border at certain checkpoints if they’re seeking asylum.
None of this is really happening, though. First of all, the corruption in their own countries doesn’t make it easy for people to obtain and produce any kind of documentation or identification. Furthermore, many of them aren’t even aware of this process. Along those lines, they either don’t know about the designated border points for asylum seekers to cross at, or those crossings are guarded and blocked by cartels.
What’s happening instead is people are finding their way to the border – whichever part of the border they can get to – and rather than just trying to sneak across, they’re presenting themselves to American officials, stating that they’re seeking asylum.
So, they’re kind of smooshing asylum seeking and illegal immigration together, and there’s a lot of them. This makes it very difficult for American border patrol agents to do their jobs effectively.
What’s Happening Now
At this point, per the zero-tolerance policy rolled out earlier this year, the American border officials are arresting the adults and prosecuting them as criminals and placing the children in holding areas. Before, first-time offenders were only charged with misdemeanors, but they were usually put into immigration proceedings rather than being prosecuted. At that point, if they qualified for asylum, they’d be granted it. Otherwise, they were sent back to their home countries – the entire families.
Allegations that family separation was occurring before the Trump administration initiated its zero-tolerance policy are rooted in falsehoods and wrongfully applied stats and figures. Yes, it happened on very rare occasions. It certainly was not the regular course of action as it is today. Also, claims of “separated” children at the border were often conflated with stats of unaccompanied minors approaching the border. They didn’t come with families to be separated from in the first place.
Now, there is no actual plan in place to reunite parents with their children, despite Trump’s executive order to now end separation of families. Many of the children have been bussed and flown to various parts of the country where their futures are uncertain.
This is all bad. Clearly, there’s a problem that needs to be addressed. The United States cannot be expected to take in everyone who shows up at our borders. That’s an idealistic and unsustainable solution to a perpetuating problem. That would be a strain on America resources, it could introduce instability into our border towns, and it would disregard the law of the land.
But there are exceptions to a lot of this in a refugee-type situation. A refugee situation is a problem for everyone involved, from the country people are fleeing from, to the refugees themselves, to the destination countries that the people are fleeing to. But whether or not we let these people into our country, the overarching issue of all of this is the way we are treating people who have already suffered. We, as Americans, like to think of ourselves as better than other nations who similarly strip people of their basic human rights, treat them like dirt, and systematically refuse to help them. We often provide aid to people subject to identical situations. And yet, here we are.
Let’s get back to the Statue of Liberty inscription. I know it’s a played-out point, but it just goes to show how vastly different our view of America, the land, and Americans, the people, once were. We once thought of ourselves as a land of opportunity and welcome and salvation, and a people of diverse backgrounds – ethnically, religiously, economically, educationally, politically, whatever.
The question isn’t whether or not this is legal – it’s a question of decency and humanity. As world leaders, we often interfere in foreign governments for taking actions similar to these against their own people. What right do we have when we can’t even get a handle on our own immigration issues?
We need a solution that doesn’t involve treating children inhumanely. We have to address the influx of people at the border and treat those seeking asylum accordingly, rather than criminalizing them. They should not be punished for fleeing poor, dangerous, and deadly living conditions. Whether or not you believe it’s our responsibility to help them, the least we can do is not lock their children up in cages.
However, according to Jeff Sessions, “If you cross the border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you, and that child may be separated from you, as required by law.” He has also claimed that these practices are “not unusual or unjustified.” Kellyanne Conway stated, “If I commit a crime and I am put in jail, my four children are separated from their mother.”
They keep trying to make the argument that this is no different from situations in which people are knowingly committing crimes, but as explained earlier, refugee situations are inherently different. And as also explained earlier, there was a process in place from before that didn’t require separating families.
Is there a solution?
If there is, this ain’t it. Let’s start there.
Even if the Trump administration is facing a record number of people at the border, this never should have been the solution. What was in place before seemed to have been working, but Trump’s base has already been inflamed about the influx of “dangerous” Mexicans crossing our border and needs to be appeased on this “issue.” The administration had to do something more than what was being done under Obama, short of building wall.
It’s as if no one has any sense of foresight or introspection, though. Or, it’s as if the administration knows they can do whatever they want to, regardless of how crazy it is, and no one will be able to stop them.
Because that’s how it’s been playing out for them this whole time.
People often look back at historical tragedies and wonder, “How was this ever allowed to happen in the United States?” Obvious examples that come to mind are the Trail of Tears, slavery, Japanese internment camps, and the less dramatic but just as baffling passage of the Prohibition Act (Seriously. Who let that happen? Imagine trying to get that passed today.)
The fact is, power resides in the hands of a few. In a democratic republic such as our own, the system is supposed to be one of a representative government. Put simply, we elect officials who then represent our needs, wants, and interests in Washington. Hopefully they’re smarter than us, or at least better informed about American and foreign politics than we are. We trust them to act in ways that we’d want them to because as they promised us on their campaign trails, they’re just “one of [us],” and they want the same things that we want.
Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. It seems that more and more often, the people are up in arms about something – and these days, they’re not small grievances – and our elected officials are doing little to nothing to listen to and address our concerns. Instead, we get blatant lies – lies that are so ridiculous that the only response any of us can muster is incredulity – from the administration regarding what the actual situation is. We get mixed messaging from various members of the government, which only serves as indication that either no one knows what’s going on or no one’s willing to talk about it truthfully. We get diversionary tactics, sorry attempts to shift our focus elsewhere, and distracting false controversies that seek to steer the conversation away from the issue.
And then we get justifications for the acts. And then we get reprimanded for not understanding the full picture. And then we get called names like “snowflakes” and “libtards” and “Trumpians,” our intelligence insulted and our compassion mocked.
And then…the world moves on, having accomplished little more than raising awareness for an issue that will continue to persist despite the fact that now, more people know about it.
From both sides of the aisle, lawmakers and constituents alike are upset, insulted, and embarrassed by the actions down at the border. Those who defend it seem to lose their argument before it starts by citing inherently flawed arguments and outright lies told by the administration.
It’s disheartening and it’s depressing. It invokes feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and “What the hell is even happening right now?”