The media earlier this week reported breathlessly that President Trump was separating children from their parents at the border and placing them in cages. Trump was doing it, commentators claimed, because he is a mean, racist jerk, and this finally proved it.
It was fake news, as usual. For the first time, though, President Trump capitulated to the fake narrative and changed his administration’s approach. It remains to be seen whether the Lone Ranger’s mask has finally slipped or if the president is just living to fight another day.
Contrary to reports, Trump did not have policy directed at separating parents from their children. The separation was a consequence of law enforcement. When parents illegally enter the country, they have broken the law. Because Western governments have not imprisoned children with parents since the time of Dickens, the parents go to jail and the kids go somewhere else.
That “somewhere else” was decided by the Department of Health and Human Services. Pictures of fencing around processing centers notwithstanding, HHS was not putting kids in cages. American taxpayers were instead spending huge amounts of money to make reasonable accommodation.
The holding areas that were called cages existed during the Obama Administration and were used for the same purpose. They were not built in the 500 days of Trump.
In most cases, the children and their parents were separated for a few hours while the crimes for illegal entry were processed. Then the family was reunited and released to the country of origin.
Hysteria about all this was phony in the way the media always is about Trump, distorting and otherwise failing to contextualize, thereby creating a false impression.
If fenced-in areas are not cages but holding areas, and if they existed in the Obama administration and generated no outrage, then when a CNN reporter yelled “cages” at Sarah Huckabee Sanders and asked about her own children, it was nothing but political agitation by a member of the press in the White House Briefing Room, and not a genuine crisis.
Here is the context that the media generally left out. Lengthier separations are caused when the parents claim asylum. That initiates a longer juridical procedure—several weeks—and federal law says that children cannot be held for more than 20 days. In those cases, HHS must spend lots more taxpayer money finding foster care away from the parents.
Asylum seekers could avoid this snafu by arriving in America at a port of entry, where bureaucracies have created means to handle such complications. When they snuck in under cover of darkness at the border, though, they looked less like political exiles and more like people interested in entering America to take advantage of off-the-books wages.
The Obama Administration tended to release the parents and their children into the general population upon a claim of asylum. Trump changed that policy because the beneficiaries too often entered the United States and did not show up at their asylum hearing. Instead, they got lost in the crowd.
Basically, they were using their children and a false asylum claim to game the system and Washington was playing along.
In his 2006 autobiography, The Audacity of Hope, Obama called immigration reform, “a sop to big business, a means for them to employ immigrants without granting them citizenship rights.” He noted that such reform, “threatens to depress further the wages of blue-collar Americans and put strains on an already overburdened safety net.”
Trump ran on a claim that he would enforce immigration laws. He won the votes of blue-collar workers and with that, the presidency. He has been fulfilling his campaign promise by prosecuting border crossers and closing big-business loopholes.
It is an act of compassion to remove perverse incentives that cause parents to break the law with their children. Every mainstream religious tradition, including the Catholic Church, teaches that people are required to obey just civil laws.
The Catholic Church also teaches that a person is morally compelled to follow an oath voluntarily taken. So that when Donald Trump placed his right hand on the Bible and promised to uphold the law, honor compelled him as president to enforce America’s immigration laws.
President Trump has asked Congress to pass a law that remedies America’s border security problems so that innocent people are not caught in the current ridiculous dragnet.
On Thursday, in response to the public outcry the news reports caused, the president unilaterally modified his administration’s policy by executive order, allowing the children and their parents to be detained together even after 20 days.
Giving CNN what it wants will have the effect of locking up children with their parents, evoking the next set of hysterical Dickensian objections. Perhaps that is ground Trump prefers. If so, it is the first time he has retreated to higher ground.
Congress can rescue the president by passing a rational law. It remains unlikely that Congress will act, however. Too many of them are beneficiaries of the Trump-bashing fake news cycle that their dysfunctional laws cause.
If things are not fixed, they get to say Trump puts children in cages, and the uncritical media plays along.
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