Family Separation Breaking Up Illegal Immigrants Will Damage American Credibility For Decades

The mid- U.S. policy of breaking up Latin American immigrant families so that children and parents are out of touch with each other for weeks and potentially months and years, especially for children too young to understand why they don’t see either of their parents, will have social effects in our history for decades, especially if numerous reunification attempts fail. As the children advance in teenage, they will increasingly begin searches and their parents will have been searching, too. Even if the policy is lawful, we will be talking about it as American imperialism, as the application of a double standard, and as an antifamily policy.

It may be lawful and it may further a lawful purpose. But those can be achieved without making a mess of families. Babies as young as three months old are reportedly being separated from parents, people who are giving post-separation custodial care are reportedly instructed to minimize touching or holding of children as would be normal for comfort and reassurance that everything will be okay, and intrafamilial communications are often lost. For children of most ages, the unexpected long-term separation without replacement will be traumatic to a degree that may require years to repair and may impede children’s development.

If the U.S. had housed each apparent family as a unit subject to investigation, housed under a single Federal supervising agency, had kept better records including DNA samples for reunification claims (including denials), had prepared for better post-deportation cross-border communications when only part of a family is deported first, and had expected faster disposals, this controversy could virtually evaporate a few weeks after the policy ends. Our government agencies are already capable of this kind of planning and implementation. I doubt any government agency needs to be shut down or even renamed because of this. Something else went wrong in setting up this system.

Maybe this should be attributed to stupidity on the part of the sitting President of the United States, but that won’t excuse it. It won’t matter that some families are fake families composed of a smuggler with unrelated children and it won’t matter that some immigrants do not qualify as asylees or otherwise to immigrate. It will matter that some asylum applicants are being wrongfully denied the right to make their initial claims, like being told at official ports of entry not to enter yet because there’s no space for them; we have space we just haven’t designated but could. It’s not that we don’t respect law; it’s that we want law to accept common fundamental expectations. Here, it doesn’t. We’ll be blamed for the separation policy from right and left.