Republicans are complaining about a humanitarian crisis along the United States border with Mexico, fueled in large part by the Biden Administration’s immigration policies.
The Trump administration was widely criticized for a policy which allowed for summary deportation of unaccompanied minors, a policy which has been reversed under Biden. Many Democratic immigration activists have pushed for a path to citizenship for all people present in the United States who do not have felony records, and some version of that has been promoted by President Biden and looks likely to pass in the current Congress. That pair of decisions has directly fed the current problem at the border.
Entire families, when they cross, are still being deported. The promise of possible citizenship for people who are here is viewed as a prize for many from other countries. The obvious answer for many families has been to send their children across the border alone. Children as young as four have been picked up by border agents. They are allowed by law to be housed for only 72 hours in border detention centers, after which they are handed over to Health and Human Services.
HHS has seen their facilities overwhelmed and have created tent cities… but even those have been overcrowded, leading the children sleeping on the ground without blankets or mattresses. Meanwhile, because deportations of children have not been qualified on matters like COVID-19 contagion, these facilities are likely to be hot spots for the transmission of the virus.
A Trump-era rule which called for data to be gathered on any family member who came forward to claim an undocumented child drastically reduced the number of children who were claimed; relatives had very rational concerns that the information would be used to fuel their own deportations. Unfortunately, the removal of that rule opens the door to a problem which proliferated extensively during the Obama administration: that of child traffickers claiming the children under false pretenses of being relatives, and moving them into work and often sexual slavery.
A child sleeping on the ground for days on end or sold to a couple as a domestic servant doesn’t care whether their trauma is happening under a Republican or Democrat President, and it shouldn’t matter. If our concerns revolve around the safety of the children, the safety of the children should be paramount… and if that involves deportation of children but only back to relatives, or placement of children in extended government care facilities with full funding, those are discussions that need to be addressed by a Congress and an informed populace.
Contrary to the way the topic is generally presented by activists of both of the largest political parties, immigration is not a simple issue. Seeking asylum is not the same as simply wanting to be in the United States, and felony criminal behavior is not the same as committing an immigration misdemeanor, and all of these issues need to be considered. The DREAM Act consistently failed to pass Congress, even when health care reform was enacted. This was a strong indicator of a need to bring the topic to the forefront for the American people and have honest and aggressive discussions about it.
Obama’s decision to bypass Congress with DACA exacerbated an already thorny issue and opened the door for some of Trump’s abuses. Trump’s aggressive actions to separate families and steal children as a disincentive for asylum seekers, deport children without bothering to inform parents where their kids were going to be dropped off, deport people ill with COVID-19 without bothering to inform the victims or the local governments, and a variety of other abuses have poisoned the well for the Republicans to make counterpoints during the Biden era… this, despite the fact that the Republicans, freed from the necessity of actually producing policy, can serve the same function the Democrats did under Trump, that of highlighting failures and abuses; and despite the fact that an honest, aggressive and comprehensive national discussion on immigration is still desperately needed.
The Republicans can’t be trusted to do so honestly at this point, not while they remain mired in Trumpism. But just because the Republicans are saying something does not mean the opposite is true, and just because the Democrats are presenting something doesn’t mean they’re right. In this case, there are thousands of children in dire circumstances who are testament to that truth.