Thousands of families, many of them fleeing Honduras and El Salvador, cross illegally into America every month. They are escaping countries where adults face daily deadly gang violence, and even worse, the forced recruitment of their children into these criminal organizations,
In the past, almost all of them, after they had been caught by American law enforcement, were deported to their country of origin if they could prove 2 things: that they were a real family and that this was their first time trying to sneak into America.
No more. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced a new zero tolerance policy on all illegal border-crossers. From now on, Sessions says, everyone found to be undocumented in America will be criminally prosecuted. No more “catch and release;” as if human beings were trout.
Sessions’ “zero tolerance” policy has wide-ranging consequences. Perhaps the most controversial is that prosecuting the adults in the family means separating them from their children, which means casting the kids into the nationwide system of detention centers run by the Office of Refugee Re-Settlement, which listeners to this program have heard described by people who’d visited them as pretty much like low-rent juvenile jails.
Locking up children, likely for months or, given the backlog of Immigration Court cases, maybe even years, to teach their parents a lesson may seem cruel, but Sessions likes the idea so much he sold it at a recent news conference with a swagger: “If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”
Did Sessions really mean parents trying to take the kids to a safer place to live are “smuggling” them? No, but his zero tolerance policy means desperate moms and dads will all be prosecuted in federal Court and be separated from their children for however long that takes, as if they were child traffickers.
Harsh medicine, Sessions gloats, but necessary because, he says, we are facing a national emergency. “Right now we are dealing with a massive influx of illegal aliens across our Southwest border. In April we saw triple the number from last April,” said Mr. Sessions. “But we’re not going to stand for this.”
Yes, April 2017 was a very slow month in an unusually slow year for illegal border crossings, and yes, immigration arrests are higher this year, but this ebb and flow is perfectly normal, as Sessions undoubtedly knows because the Border Patrol publishes the figures. But the overall flow of undocumented immigrants remains low compared to previous years. 303,916 people arrested in 2017 compared to 408,870 in fiscal 2016, 331,333 in 2015 and 479,371 in fiscal 2014.
Since taking office in 2017, President Donald Trump has ordered a rapid expansion of Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement budgets and personnel. If this has helped to raise the number of border-crosser arrests, it has taken numbers from way below normal and brought them all the way up to just below normal.
In the face of this slight increase in the trickle of illegal immigrants he is building a wall, and to fill its many unfunded gaps, he’s asked 4 border states to summon between 2000 and 4000 National Guard soldiers to the “threatened” US-Mexico border. A late promise by California Gov. Jerry Brown to send 400 California Guardspeople got the combined state pledges for the minimum 2000, a floor some people have suggested is meant to show more commitment to border security than Barack Obama did in 2011 when he sent 1200 Guards to border duty.
Of course, some state’s commitment to their quotas seems a little shaky. Gov., Brown is still negotiating limits on how his Guards might be used, and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has lowered her bid from 250 to “up to 150.” And the actual count given to the Albuquerque Journal the day of her visit to the troops, was 61.
This makes one want to ask Gov.Martinez if her scanty contribution in Guards personnel is a measure of how seriously she takes the threat at our border.
Algernon D’Ammassa writes the “Desert Sage” column for the Deming Headlight and Sun Newspapers.