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Spring 2018 Issue 6 (May 11, 2018)

The Damaging and Unnecessary Policy of Separating Families at the Border Must Stop

May 16, 2018
By Sam Kwait-Spitzer '21, Viewpoint Editor

It was Hubert Humphrey, who served as Vice President under Lyndon B. Johnson and as a senator for Minnesota, who said that “the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” While not many people would confuse the American government either in the past or in the present as being a moral actor, I still think that government should always work to climb to a moral high ground, however abstract and undefinable that morality might be. Although it might be hard to conceptualize the moral high ground that government should attempt to occupy, it is painfully obvious when government moves farther from that place. A prime example of this painful departure lies within the American immigration system.

This past February, the ACLU, on behalf of a Congolese women, filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security alleging that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, violated the women’s fifth amendment rights when they separated her from her seven-year-old child after the pair crossed the US-Mexico border. The pair was fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and sought asylum in the US.

Both the mother and her daughter were detained, and ICE saw it fit to hold the mother 2,000 miles away from her daughter, who was brought to a youth shelter in Chicago. This story is as infuriating as it is heartbreaking. Even more horrifying is that this was not an isolated incident. As of February of this year, there have been at least 53 incidents similar to the one described above, although many immigrant support groups say that the number is actually much higher. Perhaps even more distressingly, albeit unsurprisingly, the Trump Administration announced on Monday that it would take actions to “step up family separation at the border.”

There is literally no reason for immigration officials to separate parents from their children. Subjecting children to the terror of being separated, sometimes forcibly from their parents in a foreign country is evil. Subjecting parents to the psychological torture of not being able to see their children is equally insidious. In case it wasn’t obvious, according to child psychiatrist Dr. Lisa Fortuna, separating “kids from their parents, especially in moments of extreme distress and displacement, has very negative impact on child well being, mental health, and development.”

So regardless of whether or not you buy that the constitutional rights of these immigrants are being violated, or that the Congolese mother and child should be accepted for asylum, it is clear that what ICE is doing is deeply harmful and wrong. I am not condemning ICE absolutely for the work they do to curb illegal immigration, but when children are treated this ruthlessly, the individual or group that perpetuates the attack must be called out. Constitutionality is important, and so are the specifics of asylum designations, but moral transgressions should not be justified by arguments for their constitutionality or legality. A government that relies on law to defend immoral actions is failing its citizens.  

As was said at the outset: “The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life; the children.”  The government is tragically failing these children, not to mention their parents. This policy of separation must stop; it is a destructive policy that pulls the country just a bit further away from that ever-elusive moral high ground.

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