A stroll along the bay

Yesterday the New York Times published an article detailing the draft report of the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz into the policy that resulted in the separation of thousands of families, many of them fleeing violence in Central America and seeking asylum in the United States. The separation of migrant children from their parents, sometimes for months, was at the heart of the administration’s assault on immigration. The policies that caused global outrage were promoted by the highest officials in the administration, several of whom have since left their positions. The belief of those promoting the policies was that separating migrant families would deter future illegal immigration.

The draft report cites more than 45 interviews with key officials, emails and other documents and provides the most complete look to date at the discussions within the Justice Department as the family separation policy was developed, pushed and carried out.

Draft reports must be taken carefully as they can be significantly revised before their final release, but the report points to an alarming push to prosecute as many people crossing the border as possible without regard to the consequences in the lives of children. The justice department sought to separate itself from the care of the children, deeming that to be the duty of other departments, primarily the US Marshals Service. Arresting and charging a defendant with a crime often results in the separation of that individual from their family and when children are involved, they are transferred to other agencies for care while the prosecutions play out. In the case of the family separation policies, arrests were made to be the highest priority of border officials, prosecutions were frequently delayed for months and people were detained without due process. Duty logs of US Customs and Border Patrol offices document the separation of children of all ages, including “taking breastfeeding mothers way from their infants.”

Children ended up in detention centers, often without adequate care. At times as many as 2,000 migrant children were being held without their parents. At least six children, five from Guatemala and one from El Salvador have died in federal custody. Conditions in the camps included unsanitary conditions, overcrowding and cruelty. The detention facilities were referred to as “concentration camps” by child advocates and by lawmakers. It was widely reported that children lacked access to adequate food, space to sleep, or basic supplies such as soap and toothpaste.

The child separation policies proved to be so unpopular that administration officials have backed off of the most severe policies, but the detention of migrant children continues. It is all a part of an attempt to stop all immigration into the country. Top administration officials, including former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have sought to separate themselves from the policy, but the draft report makes it clear that these policies were embraced by top administration officials. The report states that Mr. Sessions told prosecutors, “We need to take away children.” Deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein instructed prosecutors that it did not matter how young the children were. He urged government lawyers to prosecute cases that involved infants.

It is hard to read the reports. It is not the image of our country that we have treasured. Increasingly, however, it reflects how the rest of the world is viewing our nation as a place that does not care about refugees, will not accept asylum seekers and does not provide for the basic needs of families with children.

The argument presented by the administration is that immigrants are a threat to the employment of citizens. Those at the bottom of the economic spectrum, who are struggling with unemployment or employment that does not pay enough to provide for the basics of housing and food, are suffering because of people of even worse circumstances who are fleeing violence and intolerable conditions in their home countries. Instead of seeing income inequality as being produced by the concentration of wealth among a very small segment of the population, people are encouraged to blame those of less fortunate circumstances. “The immigrants are coming to take your jobs away!” is the chant of the fear mongers despite little evidence that this is the case.

Whatever you think about immigration policy, it is impossible to escape that children are innocent victims of decisions made by others. Separating children from their families except in cases of abuse or neglect is never in the best interests of the children.

Inspector generals reports often are lost in the crush of other information that is part of our daily lives. Most citizens never get around to reading the reports and they are often filed with other piles of bureaucratic papers. Administrations change and policies are altered. Hopefully the child detention policies can be replaced with more enlightened ways of responding to the worldwide migration crisis. The damage already done to children, however, is severe and, in many cases permanent. They have lost the basic trust that is required for them to mature.

Hear our prayers for children in detention, gracious God. The stories of our people tell of how you have been with us when we were refugees, fleeing the persecution of Egypt, wandering in the wilderness, seeking a home while living in tents. We know that you desire freedom for all of your people. We know that you have heard the cries of our people when they suffered slavery and persecution. Enable us to see the lives of others who are fleeing and homeless in the stories of our scriptures. Inspire us to become more aware of what we are doing as a nation and to speak up for those who have no voice in the politics and policies of our country.

Almighty God, make your presence known to children in detention camps. May they find moments of care and concern. May their fears be calmed and their resilience sustained. May they be reunited with their parents as soon as possible. May our eyes be opened and our action inspired to seek justice for these little ones. In Christ we pray, Amen.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

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