Some might say that calling out Democrats on immigration is not productive at this moment, when the Trump administration is falsely claiming that they are responsible for the laws that permit families being torn apart. (In fact, the family separation policy was implemented entirely by the Trump administration.)
But it’s undeniable that the Trump administration’s policy (which is now reportedly being modified) is an extension of family detention policies carried out by previous administrations—including Democratic ones. Once you get the American public to swallow the concept of locking up mothers and their kids, getting Americans accustomed to separating families becomes an easier task.
Cecilia Muñoz, President Obama’s top domestic policy adviser, admitted to the New York Times this week that when the Obama administration was opening family detention centers in 2014, they considered separating parents from their children. “We spent five minutes thinking it through and concluded that it was a bad idea,” Muñoz told the Times. The Obama administration instead opted to expand family detention.
Muñoz’s admission essentially connects the dots between the detention of families to the separation of families, while simultaneously trying to create some kind of moral relativism.
The people who paved the way for these policies know what they did, and they have to figure out how to undo it. At this point, these officials can’t just tweet about their outrage. They need to acknowledge they set the groundwork for this. It’s time for people like Muñoz to apologize, start fundraising for legal defense funds, and help strategize how to dismantle the shit they got us in. Some civil disobedience wouldn’t hurt either.
Here’s a list of just some of the people who helped build this family separation machine and who need to be doing more than just sending their thoughts and prayers to the families that the U.S has torn apart.
Clinton signed a law in 1996 that transformed how the U.S. enforced immigration laws. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) expanded a list of crimes dubbed “aggravated felonies” that can make an undocumented immigrant automatically deportable. Many of the offenses on the list are neither “aggravated” nor “felonies.”
The crimes on the list range from murder to forging or altering a drug prescription to failing to appear in court. If Congress decides to add a new crime to the list, the law can be applied retroactively.
And there’s very little that undocumented immigrants found guilty of an aggravated felony can do to fight their deportation, because they can be deported without a formal hearing from an immigration judge.
As Vox’s Dara Lind wrote in 2016, today’s deportation machine was “built on the legal scaffolding of the options IIRIRA opened up.”
Clinton also militarized the border with initiatives like Operation Gatekeeper in 1994 and doubled the budget for law enforcement along the border.
Muñoz was the highest-ranking Latinx official in the Obama White House. In 2011, when Obama was deporting a record number of immigrants, Muñoz famously declared that “even broken laws have to be enforced.”
When Obama took office in 2009, the administration had the capacity to detain just over 600 parents and children. But that same year, the administration closed the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a privately run migrant family jail with 512 beds that was the subject of controversy and a lawsuit.
In 2014, there was a surge of unaccompanied minors and families coming to the U.S. and the Obama administration started opening family detention centers again.
The number of “family detention beds” expanded from dozens to more than 3,600 in 2014, when Muñoz was the head of the Obama administration’s Domestic Policy Council.
Before 2014, the U.S. generally did not detain family units. Families were released and put in immigration proceedings, according to Leon Fresco, deputy assistant attorney general under Obama.
“Prior to 2014, the history of America was a history of you let the family in together and you give them an immigration proceeding, that’s pretty much it,” Fresco told NPR on Wednesday.
These days, Muñoz’s talking point is that there’s a “big difference” between locking up families and separating parents from their children. But the real question is why we have to lock up people seeking asylum at all.
Muñoz also became a big advocate for the deportation of unaccompanied minors, many of whom were fleeing violence, poverty or wanted to reconnect with their families.
Muñoz told PBS Newshour in 2014 that it “is likely to be that the vast majority of those kids end up going back. There may be some isolated cases where there is some basis for them to be able to stay, but the borders of the United States are not open, not even for children who come on their own, and the deportation process starts when they get here, and we expect that it will continue for the vast majority of these kids.”
Don’t get me started on Johnson, who served as secretary of Homeland Security from 2013 to 2017. He’s making the media rounds criticizing the current administration’s family separation policies in TV and radio interviews. In a Washington Post op-ed this week, he called the family separation policies “un-American and ineffective” at deterring families from seeking refuge in the U.S.
The funny thing is, an ACLU lawsuit accused Johnson of locking up families seeking asylum “in order to send a message to other migrants that they should not come to the U.S.” The plaintiffs in the lawsuit were mothers who the government had found to have a credible fear of being persecuted in their native countries. Immigration officials still refused to release them.
Johnson also openly used the threat of deportations to attempt to deter immigrants from coming north.
Just like Johnson, DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman told CNN on Monday that “of course we expect the 100% prosecution policy at the border to have a deterrent effect.”
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly in 2017 (when he was Secretary of Homeland Security) also confirmed to CNN that the department was considering separating children from their parents at the border “in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network.”
President Barack Obama on Monday retweeted former First Lady Michelle Obama’s tweet praising her fellow ex-First Lady Laura Bush’s Washington Post op-ed condemning the family separation policy. (Got that?)
Where do we start? Obama deported more people than any other president in the history of the United States.
Family detention centers also flourished under Obama. And he defended his unaccompanied minor policies in language that could be used by Trump officials today.
“Our message absolutely is: Don’t send your children unaccompanied on trains or through a bunch of smugglers. That is our direct message to the families in Central America. Do not send your children to the borders. If they do make it, they’ll get sent back,” Obama told ABC News in 2014, warning potential migrants that they could die on their journey to the U.S.
Here’s how our current president defends his immigration policies: “It’s a horrible dangerous journey for them and they come up because they know once they can get here they can walk right into our country.”
OK, the company is not exclusively Democratic, but Microsoft is on the same boat with the other people on this list. The software company issued a statement saying it was “dismayed by the forcible separation of children from their families at the border.”
However, Microsoft has had no problem providing its cloud IT services to help ICE employees “make more informed decisions faster.”
Let’s hope Microsoft can help immigration officials reunite these families faster. Right now, parents are being deported with no idea where their kids are.
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