Domestic Policy

The Child Separation Fiasco Should Be Investigated As A Crime

The President and the Secretary of Homeland Security must be held accountable

It’s worse than you think.

The sudden, indiscriminate separation of thousands of infants, toddlers and minor children from their parents is a moral outrage. Warehousing those children in chain link cages is obscene.

But that’s not the worst of it.

If numerous news reports are true – and there’s no reason to believe they are not – the way the United States government, specifically the Department of Homeland Security, is going about this indecent task could be a crime more akin to kidnapping than detention.

Although the facts are still murky, it appears that in many cases there is little if any documentation that would permit the prompt and systematic reunification of parent and child, even after the parent is granted asylum, acquitted of misdemeanor illegal entry, released from custody, or deported.

The Los Angeles Times  and other outlets have reported that in court proceedings in McAllen, Texas, parents were confused about “where their children had been taken, why and whether they would be reunified.” According to the Times, “The Texas Civil Rights Project has documented cases of parents who said they were told their children were being taken for a bath at the processing center. Instead, the children were separated from the parents. Federal public defenders said they have heard similar accounts.”

I’m sorry, I know that Nazi references are out of bounds, and that nothing the United States government is doing is even remotely comparable to the holocaust. But damn it, echoes of Jews being rounded up and tricked into believing that they were being marched to “the showers” are inescapable.

Whether or not the government is using subterfuge to separate children from their parents, it is certainly not making it easy to reunite them once they are separated.  One immigration attorney describes the same outrageous pattern in case after case.  During court hearings, the government objects to every question about the location of a defendant’s children. It’s “irrelevant,” they claim. The judge overrules the objection and forces the government agent to answer the question. The agent then goes into an “I know nothing” song-and-dance that would make Sergeant Schultz proud: “Do you know the location of the child?” No or unknown. “Did you provide my client with information as to the location of his child?” No or unknown. “Did you provide my client with any information as to how he could go about finding his child?” No or unknown.

One federal judge became so incensed at the government’s inability to account for the whereabouts of a defendant’s child that he slammed his fist and reprimanded a government prosecutor:

“I can’t understand this. If someone at the jail takes your wallet, they give you a receipt. They take your kids, and you get nothing? Not even a slip of paper?”

Predictably, Homeland Security denies keeping parents in the dark about the whereabouts of their children, but their denials would be comical if they weren’t so pathetically inadequate. Before parents are taken from the processing center, the government explains, they are given “fliers” explaining the family separation “process” in both English and Spanish.

Instead of fliers, how about giving parents specific written information about the exact whereabouts of their children?

Giving a parent a generic “flier” that explains the “process” pretty much leaves it to the government to keep precise records that will allow for prompt and expeditious reunification when the time comes. It is beginning to look like the government may not be up to even that most basic task.

Oh well, if the government can’t or won’t keep records sufficient to allow for prompt and expeditious reunification of parent and child, maybe the kids can help. That assumes, of course, that the child is old enough to talk or read, or to explain more than that mommy is pretty and daddy is tall and has dark hair.

The utter carelessness with which these separations have been conducted is probably the reason why Donald Trump’s much ballyhooed Executive Order – which neither accomplishes nor even promises anything – says absolutely nothing about reunification of the children who have already been taken from their parents. It is probably why Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary has asked the U.S. military to build facilities to warehouse up to 20,000 immigrant children.  It is probably why the Trump administration refuses to give any coherent answer at all as to how, when, or even if the children who have already been separated – or perhaps more accurately, abducted – will be reunified with their parents.

If even half of what has been reported is true, then Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of Homeland Security, on whose watch and under whose authority the separations were executed, should be criminally investigated, and perhaps arrested. What she has presided over is not bad policy. It is criminal malfeasance.

Because with each passing day, the unthinkable is starting to become a real possibility: maybe some of these children will never be reunited with their parents. Not because the parents have been adjudicated to be unfit, or have been convicted of a crime, or have been deported.

No.  Simply because the government didn’t bother to keep sufficient records to prove which child belongs with which parent.

Could there be a more heartbreaking example of the banality of evil?

Let’s hope this never happens. But if it does, somebody must be held accountable, and Secretary Nielsen should be at the head of the line.

Right next to the President.

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  1. Aside from what are likely esoteric (illegal alien entry) federal criminal statutes and nuances few us substantively know, what is obvious to all is that a grievous human rights mistake was made by our high officials. Apparently, worldwide objections to separating children from parents at the border is the reason for our government officials’ change of heart.

    To me, regardless of how screwed up now are the locations and identifications of children such that their parents do not know where the kids are–what threatens me most (and has for many decades and through many modern-day presidential administrations) is that even with the policy reversal, our president and his high-level minions do not admit to making a serious mistake.

    We can kick around the obscure variations on what the word “policy” means and be very confused about if a policy actually exists–in this case family separations. What I am not confused about is that I claim there is an unwritten “policy” of US governmental officials including all modern presidents and their cabinet ministers (and I might justifiably include high military officials also) to never admit they have taken the wrong path–acted harmfully precipitously–to never admitting mistakes.

    Is it any wonder why no matter what shade of the political spectrum our citizens fall within, a majority distrusts our federal government? I have justifiably held this opinion since the Vietnam War. We are always lied to with facility and aplomb. The greater the mistake, the more government subterfuge that attaches.

    Perhaps you find this comment off the track. I find it to be pivotal. Had our president quickly and forthrightly admitted to making a bad mistake and promising immediate correction, I doubt it would yet be the first story aired on every television and radio station in the US–and even nightly on the BBC.

    We do have a bad president. We do have a predominantly incompetent and malfeasant (my word) elected government. (Possibly the only honorable branch of our government is the federal judiciary.) And yet, I must return to the unassailable observation that we elected these people. We placed them in office–and we unconscionably keep them there for years.

    So is our government to blame–or are we?

  2. It’s true that comparisons to Nazis are problematic, but you are right that some recollection of them is inescapable. To add to our humiliation, even the Nazis kept good records.

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