An Unholy Separation Policy

An unholy separation policy: Stop pulling families apart now, says the Bishop of Brooklyn
By Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio
New York Daily News, June 19, 2018

For weeks now, we have heard of children being separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, literally being ripped from their parents’ arms. The images of crying children and distraught parents seem so inhumane that it is hard to believe this is actually happening in the United States of America.

We are beginning to hear more about the detention centers at the border, as reporters and elected officials are now being allowed inside. One individual who was given access said he saw children being kept in what resembled “animal kennels” or cages. Another reported that a baby was taken away while breastfeeding. There have been numerous reports of children being taken away on false pretenses, with no idea when the will be returned to their parents.

It is horrifying to contemplate the psychological damage being perpetrated on these innocent children.

As the Book of Leviticus reminds us“When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you must not oppress him. You must treat the foreigner living among you as native-born and love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God …” (19: 33-34).

The Trump administration says in taking children from parents at the border, it is following a law that already existed, but this is untrue. There is not a law that requires family separation. The President could stop this with a phone call.

The administration also says this zero-tolerance policy acts as a deterrent by sending a message to adults of what could happen if they arrive at our border with their children. But this policy is not reflective of the values of our nation or the morality of its people and should be halted immediately. There must be a compassionate way to enforce immigration laws.

What is more egregious is that the administration is using these children as leverage to enact its nativist agenda in the form of two bills being considered in Congress. Both of those bills would change our nation’s immigration system for the worse. And they are not needed to end the separation of families.

Both bills would include, among other “poison pills,” a reduction in asylum standards, the removal of protections from unaccompanied children, evisceration of the family-based immigration system, the end of the diversity lottery system and an ineffective border wall. In order to end family separation, the bills remove protections for unaccompanied children — what they call “loopholes” — allowing the administration to incarcerate children with their parents in adult jails.

The second bill, forged by the House Republican leadership and dubbed a “compromise,” would provide DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) youth a chance for a green card through a new merit — or points-based — system. But immigration advocates say as many as half of the DACA-eligible youth might not get the chance to obtain one through the new system.

Both of these bills should be voted down. They use the undocumented youth as bait to achieve immigration changes which on their own would never receive majority support. They also would fundamentally alter our legal immigration system, weakening family unity and diversity in the process.

As the U.S. Catholic bishops have stated in the past, addressing the push forces that drive migrants to flee — endemic violence and extreme poverty in their countries — is a more effective and humane solution to forced migration than a border wall. For years, the bishops also have called for comprehensive immigration reform, which should include a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants, not just undocumented youth.

But right now our immediate concern should be ending the brutal policy of separating migrant children from their families at the border. President Trump himself has said he “hates” to see children separated, while First Lady Melania Trump opposes the policy, stating that we need to be a country that follows laws, but also a country that governs with heart.

If these statements are sincere, then the President should end this policy and not use vulnerable children as bargaining chips.

I call upon Congress to reject this false bargain and work toward humane immigration reform. What is needed on this vital issue is a true bipartisan effort which reforms our immigration system in a just manner and reflects our history and values as a nation of immigrants.