The Trump administration recently implemented its most callous policy yet. And that’s saying something considering the fact that these are the same people who pushed for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, refused to act on gun control and implemented a wildly discriminatory Muslim ban. The new policy I am referring to is the Department of Homeland Security guidance directing U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to separate children from parents who attempt to cross the border from Mexico into the United States.
Shockingly, this policy even includes parents and children who attempt to cross through official points of entry as asylum seekers. To be clear, these kids — some of whom are as young as 53 weeks old — are not just temporarily separated from their parents. They are placed in U.S. government custody, sent to one of many Department of Health and Human Services facilities across the country and then placed into long-term foster care (or given to friends or family who are already in the U.S., if they are fortunate enough to have any).
The accounts of parents who have had their kids taken are harrowing. In a court filing, as highlighted by journalist Chris Hayes, one mother recalls, “The immigration officers then made me walk out with my son to a government vehicle and place my son in a car seat in the vehicle. My son was crying as I put him in the seat. I did not even have a chance to try to comfort my son, because the officers slammed the door shut as soon as he was in his seat. I was crying, too. I cry even now when I think about that moment when the border officers took my son away.”
This underscores two issues that plague American immigration enforcement: We have federal leaders pushing policies that advocate treating immigrants like animals, and we have federal employees who are far too happy to comply with these outrageous orders.
The behavior of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and CBP has long been unacceptable. Recent American Civil Liberties Union court filings detail the horrific abuses that took place in CBP facilities from 2009 to 2014. The Washington Post reported, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents allegedly used stun guns on the minors for amusement or punishment, kicked them and threatened to either rape or kill them.” That kind of treatment of children is not just un-American; it is sadistic and criminal.
Earlier this month, a CBP officer detained American citizens for speaking Spanish. And ICE agents have repeatedly raided workplaces and Greyhound busses — they have even started arresting undocumented immigrants while they drop their kids off at school. As government employees, it is the job of ICE and CBP agents to act in the public interest, not to behave like members of some paramilitary organization. While the Bush and Obama administrations often failed to rein in the abuses of our immigration agencies, the Trump administration has actually encouraged their worst impulses.
President Trump, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are directly responsible for telling CBP to separate immigrant children from their parents. They are responsible for encouraging an environment in which ICE and CBP can trample over the rights of immigrants and American citizens alike. And they are responsible for fostering nativist, anti-immigrant sentiment across the country. We should never let them forget that — whether it’s at the ballot box in 2018 and 2020 or when Nielsen and Sessions inevitably try to cash out once they leave the Trump administration. Advocating for the separation of families — and permitting abuse and discrimination — should render someone unemployable, in both the public and private sectors.
But if you are as appalled as I am, don’t just wait until the midterms to voice your displeasure. Call U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), your home state representatives and the White House. Put pressure on the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress to act because, with each passing day, more families are broken up and more harm is wrought on innocent people.
Ryan Boyd is a Weinberg freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected] The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.