Remember how the policy of separating families at the border worked out so well for the Trump administration last time? All of those harrowing pictures, videos, and sounds from what some critics dubbed Trump’s “baby jails?” Kirstjen Nielsen getting chased out of a restaurant? Allegations of abuse? The evidence that the kids suffered serious psychological damage even after they were released? The utter chaos surrounding the policy’s implementation?
It seems the administration thought that was such jolly good fun that they’re considering giving it another go. According to the Washington Post
on Friday, the administration is “actively considering plans that could again separate parents and children at the U.S.-Mexico border.”
The administration is considering a number of plans, but the one they’ve termed “binary choice” is perhaps the most harrowing, according to the Post:
One option under consideration would detain asylum-seeking families together until a 20-day deadline for releasing children kicks in. Then parents would be given a choice: Stay in family detention with your child for months or years as your immigration case proceeds, or allow them to be taken to a government shelter for unaccompanied migrant children so that other relatives or guardians can seek custody.
See how nice and humane they’re being this time around? They might allow immigrants to choose between being locked up indefinitely, potentially for years, or releasing their kids to a shelter and risk never seeing them again if the parents are deported and the kids are released to other guardians, for example, which is how many deported parents have lost their kids already.
In September, the Post reported the administration sought to withdraw from a 1997 court agreement that prevents it from keeping children in ICE custody for more than 20 days. According to Friday’s reporting by the paper, we have impish fascist and paste enthusiast Stephen Miller to thank for this one: Apparently, Miller “believes the springtime separations worked as an effective deterrent to illegal crossings.” This was the theory that spurred the administration to implement family separations in the first place, but it’s bullshit, in addition to being inherently cruel and inhumane.
A July study by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, found family separation to be an “ineffective” deterrent. The director of research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute wrote for Vox in June that the data suggests “the reasons people are fleeing the region are powerful enough to overcome severe deterrence policies.” This ought to be obvious. Many of these immigrants are fleeing their homes under threat of violence or death against them and their families; they are trying to save their own and their children’s lives. Parents will do anything to save their children’s lives. This is a fact about humans that the Trump administration refuses to understand.
But whether or not these policies actually act as a deterrent is ultimately irrelevant. It could also be viewed as a “deterrent” if we started shooting migrants on sight and putting their heads on spikes, but I suspect even Paste Boy wouldn’t support instituting that—not as a formal policy, anyway. The deterrent effect of these policies doesn’t matter. What matters is that separating families is torture, and it’s a sick joke to act like making parents choose between indefinite detention and being separated from their children is a choice at all. You might even call it Stephen’s Choice.