It occurs to me that Fathers Day is a good day to think about this. The Republican Party has often claimed to support family values. The current handling of children of illegal immigrants, like the case of Elián González in 2000, is inconsistent with that claim. The right of parents to raise their children, which implies the right to custody of them, is one of the basic principles concerning families. Here, however, as in the González case, that right is being denied, not for the good of the children or out of some overriding necessity, but for political reasons.
Elián González. Here is a link to a synopsis of the case. After his mother drowned in the attempt to take him by boat from Cuba to the United States, he was placed with relatives in Florida. They resisted his father’s request that his son be returned to him. The resistance was not on the grounds that the father was an unfit parent but because they preferred that the boy be in the United States rather than under the Communist regime of Fidel Castro. In other words, the Florida relatives and their sympathizers in the United States, including many Republicans, were willing to ignore parental rights for political reasons. On the other hand, the fact that refugees from Cuba entered the country illegally was not a problem for any significant number of people of either party.
Trump/Sessions Policy. Senator Susan Collins (R, ME), in a letter (apparently to a constituent), explains the situation as follows:
In May, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice would begin prosecuting individuals who crossed the southern border illegally, which could mean that parents who are apprehended at the border could be separated from their children in some cases.
She goes on to write about the dangers of the voyage from the parent’s home to the border and the the apparent belief of the parents that if they can reach the United States they will be allowed to stay. Although she does not explain what that has to do with the new policy or the treatment of the children, it seems consistent with the argument others have advanced that when the policy becomes known, it will discourage others from trying to immigrate this way.
“In May … would begin …” In other words, contrary to Trump’s claim that this was necessary because of some “horrible law” enacted by the Democrats, this is a new policy, freely chosen by Jeff Sessions. It is not necessary under current law.
“the southern border” The Constitution requires equal protection of the laws. To have a set of rules for those entering across the southern border which is not applied equally to those entering across the northern border or at any port of entry by sea or air is clearly unequal on its face. The obvious difference between those coming across the southern border and those entering elsewhere is that the former are Hispanic while the others generally are not. In other words, this policy is based on ethnic bigotry.
“parents … could be separated from their children …” The only hint of a rationalization for the deliberate change of policy which produces this result is not that the parents are unfit but that it will send a message to other, unrelated individuals, to discourage them from coming here. As with Elián González, people want to take children from their parents for political purposes.
Comments and Conclusions. Regrettably, it seems that many Republicans — now as then — are, at best, selective in their support of family values or ignorant of what they entail. It seems that an anti-immigrant fervor, which is directed only at Hispanics and Muslims, takes precedence for them. The bigotry of the Administration and their supporters makes them comfortable with using the children as pawns/hostages in their attempt to get funding for the border wall. Those who recognize the rights of children and parents are being pressured to fund the wall as part of a deal to end this unnecessary policy.
It should be noted that one difference between the González case and the current situation is that Elián was with family members, whereas the children now are not being placed with loving and caring relatives. Presumably, in the vast majority of cases there are no such known relatives, so they are being held in custody. This raises the point that if parents and children alike are in custody, it should be possible for them to be together in custody. This is not like the situation which often occurs in other sorts of criminal cases, in which a child can be placed with other family members when a parent is in custody.
It is true that the United States cannot be expected to allow open borders. We need to have sensible immigration policies and procedures, including better border controls. But that need doesn’t mean that anything goes or that the natural rights of parents and children may be disregarded.
What we need now is an immediate reversal of the DOJ decision of last May. Then we need serious immigration reform. Until such reform is enacted, immigration enforcement should be limited to cases of serious criminals, the “bad hombres” Donald Trump pretended to be concerned about. People who have merely violated immigration laws or are convicted of non-violent crimes should be allowed to remain until Congress passes comprehensive legislation; and that legislation should allow those who have already made a peaceable life for themselves here to remain.