Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

Trump, lawmakers respond to immigration outrage

Compassion | Family separation policy sparks nationwide debate about laws and morals
by Rob Holmes
Posted 6/20/18, 03:00 pm

The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote this week on Republican-crafted immigration bills as national attention stays laser-focused on the plight of families trying to enter the United States at its southern border. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., introduced the Securing America’s Future Act, a legislative fix to law enforcement, border security, chain migration, and policies affecting “Dreamers,” or children who were brought to the country illegally. The bill would also address concerns over illegal immigrant families being separated at the border by allowing the government to detain children and parents together indefinitely, a policy President Donald Trump was expected to introduce by executive order Wednesday. (Editor’s note: The president signed the order later Wednesday afternoon.)

From April 19 to May 31, about 1,995 children entered detention separate from their parents, who were being prosecuted for illegal entry. The “zero tolerance” policy built upon Operation Streamline, initiated by President George W. Bush, which set a goal of criminally prosecuting everyone who entered the U.S. illegally.

“The Obama administration also separated [illegal] immigrant families. … We’re increasing the rate of what we were already doing,” said Katie Waldman, spokeswoman for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. “Instead of letting some slip through, we’re saying we’re doing it for all.”

A bipartisan coalition of more than 75 former U.S. attorneys wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week, saying the policy traumatized children and was not required by law. (Title 8 of U.S. Code 1325 and 1326 govern illegal entry, a misdemeanor that carries a six-month sentence, and illegal reentry, a felony with a sentence of up to two years.)

Sessions sparked public outrage last week for citing a Bible passage about submission to government authority to defend the policy. He cited Romans 13, which was also quoted by 19th century slave owners to uphold slavery laws. In a Fort Wayne, Ind., speech responding to the backlash from religious leaders, Sessions added, “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. It protects the weak, it protects the lawful.”

Many politicians and clergy said a zero tolerance policy harms the weak, who may already have been crime victims themselves. Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, said the practice of separating families was “morally unacceptable,” The Boston Globe reported.

A wide swath of religious leaders banded together in a statement against the policy, and more than 600 clergy and laity from the United Methodist Church, to which Sessions belongs, said they planned to bring charges in church courts related to the attorney general’s actions.

Meanwhile, 55 percent of Republican voters said they supported the zero tolerance policy, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released this week.

Customs and Border Protection reported it apprehended nearly double the number of family units in fiscal year 2016 as the previous year. And 2017 figures stayed nearly the same level: 75,802 individuals entered with a family member—an average of more than 6,300 per month. 

The Department of Homeland Security said many migrants pose as parents or enter the country with a child so as to avoid prosecution, stemming from previous lax handling of families. “From October 2017 to February 2018, there was a 315 percent increase in the number of cases of adults with minors fraudulently posing as ‘family units’ to gain entry,” according to DHS.

“American citizens that are jailed do not take their children to jail with them,” Sessions said. “And noncitizens who cross our borders unlawfully—between our ports of entry—with children are not an exception.”

The attorney general sees the law as the solution.

“If we build the wall, if we pass legislation to end the lawlessness, we won’t face these terrible choices,” he said.

Minority housing

The American Civil Liberties Union challenged rental laws in a small Minnesota town last week, saying the rules discriminated against Somalis and African-Americans, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. The town “aimed at reducing the number of people of color living in rental housing within its borders,” according to the lawsuit.

The rental requirements of Faribault, Minn., are similar to those on the books in many U.S. cities: Two heartbeats per bedroom and criminal background checks on potential tenants. But Faribault’s law goes beyond giving landlords the authority to enforce those rules and makes it mandatory that they do so.

The heartbeat rule makes it harder for larger families, including many Somalis, to find a home. The law also gives police the power to order the eviction of an entire household if only one member becomes involved in crime, even if they aren’t arrested. Eviction is also automatic after “three strikes” for any disorderly conduct. The ACLU called the requirements discriminatory, since African-Americans are statistically more likely to be arrested than white people and therefore more likely to end up evicted.

The lawsuit stated that the Faribault rental ordinance violates the Fair Housing Act and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. Though the city claimed it improved safety and overall living conditions for renters, it enacted the law in 2014, just as the area experienced an increase in residents with a Somali background. —R.H.

Associated Press/Photo by Kathy Willens (file) Associated Press/Photo by Kathy Willens (file)

Unwelcome ads

Soon the world’s primary search engine won’t help users find a bail bond provider. In July, Google will enact a total ban on such ads from its searches. The company said on its official blog that for-profit bond providers feed on “communities of color and low income neighborhoods when they are at their most vulnerable.” The decision was based on a 2016 study ,“How Privatization Increases Inequality,” produced by In the Public Interest, which claims poor people who are arrested carry a higher burden and become indebted to bondsmen.

But the alternative to getting a loan to post bond—staying in jail—may hurt poor people more. Many of those arrested lose jobs and custody of their children while serving even a short sentence, so they turn to the for-profit bond industry. —R.H.

Rob Holmes

Rob is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute’s mid-career course. Follow Rob on Twitter @SouthernFlyer.

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  • Ed Schick
    Posted: Sat, 06/23/2018 03:16 am

    I am glad Mr. Holmes treated this subject better than the last WORLD article on this topic. For example, he pointed out how the illegal immigrants are in some cases are using children as method of gaining leniency when entering the U.S. illegally. However, Mr. Holmes engaged in editorializing about Jeff Sessions' citation of Romans 13, a Bible passage that defines the basis of a government enforcing its laws. Mr. Holmes said Mr. Sessions should not use Bible passages that have been used to justify slavery. Mr. Holmes needs to think his argument through carefully. Should Christians stop reading all passages that have been misused in the Bible? Maybe Mr. Holmes should save his editorial comments for another article like an indepth opinion piece where he can explain why immigration laws should not be enforced by the government. Maybe Mr. Sessions was right about immigration law while he made need to look as some ways to lessen the trauma caused by the parents of these children. The parents should be blamed for the trauma, not the attorney general.