HRI Board Member, Natalie Nanasi and HRI Deputy Director, Kavita Khandekar Chopra
Please note: This Op-Ed appeared in Letters to the Editor, Dallas Morning News, 06/25/2018 – Re: “Trump ends separation policy — Children now will be detained with parents,” Thursday news story. https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/2018/06/25/letters-detention-facilities-compassion-moderates-double-standards-homeless-students
If you were quick to celebrate President Trump’s June 20, 2018 Executive Order (“EO”) “Affording Congress an Opportunity to Address Family Separation,” we ask you to pause for just a moment. The EO states that in order to “maintain family unity,” parents the administration has decided to charge with unlawful entry into the United States will now be detained along with their children. To be clear – the Trump Administration, hiding behind the banner of “Border Security,” will now imprison mothers and children who are fleeing mass violence and seeking refuge in the United States.
Make no mistake, these children will be in jail. In DHS family detention facilities, freedom of movement is restricted. Detainees are told when to eat, sleep and wake. Personal possessions are taken away from women and children and they are provided government-issued clothing to wear. Flashlights from middle of the night bed-checks wake children from their slumber. Even play is regulated. Basic toys such as crayons are forbidden. The “visitation room” at the Karnes Family Immigration Detention Center in southeast Texas, where Natalie led a group of volunteer SMU law students in the spring of 2017, has a roughly 9’x11’ rug on which all toys are required to remain. The students regularly witnessed guards discipline children if a toy car strayed from the boundaries of the carpet.
It is important to note that arresting and detaining parents and children is a policy choice. The Department of Homeland Security has the authority, which it has long exercised, to either prosecute and detain or release parents and families. No law requires the detention of those who have crossed the border without authorization and there are many occasions in which offenders who commit misdemeanor violations such us unlawful entry are not ultimately charged with a crime. There are also more humane – and cheaper – alternatives to detention. It is only the administration’s recent “zero tolerance” policy that mandates the criminal prosecution and detention of anyone who crosses the border without authorization, including those who present themselves at the border seeking asylum.
The President’s Executive Order also requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to maintain custody of families “during the pendency of any criminal improper entry or immigration proceedings involving their members.” These legal processes could take months or perhaps even years to resolve, and because mothers with children are detained separately from men, families will remain separated and subjected to the horrors of detention.
Just a week away from America’s Independence Day, we ask you is this what American stands for? We don’t think so.