New “zero tolerance” immigration policy is traumatizing by design

While immigration has been in the news fairly solidly since the Trump administration took the reigns, in the last few weeks we have entered a whole new era of previously unimaginable policies.

Detaining children is nothing new. Under Obama the detention of children was met with outrage by a lot of immigration attorneys and advocates. In fact as many have said before, Obama, our “deporter in chief”  oversaw very aggressive detention and removal policy. He deported more immigrants than any President before him. It was not as publicized as what we are seeing now, but it did happen.

But the idea of taking parents and putting them in one detention center — while placing kids in a different one — this is unconscionable.

Nobody could possibly fathom that this is anything other than a tactic designed to intimidate, frighten and traumatize decent people, many of whom are already in trauma, fleeing violence in their own country, sometimes with very small children in tow.

In a prepared statement defending the policy which has seen close to 2000 children separated from their parents since its rollout, AG Jeff Sessions responded:

We do not want to separate children from their parents. We do not want adults to bring children into this country unlawfully, placing them at risk. But we cannot and will not encourage people to bring their children by giving them blanket immunity from our laws.

What is Trump’s zero tolerance policy?

In April 2018 Sessions introduced a new zero tolerance policy that has specifically targeted detaining children separately from their parents as a way to deter people from bringing their children into the US across the border. Additionally, in June, he made changes that limit the ways that immigrants can access asylum.

Sessions ruled that claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not necessarily qualify for asylum, setting back the clock on jurisprudence by about two decades.

The domestic violence element enormously affects women and children in particular, as they are the ones who are generally escaping that situation.

What can you do if you are, or know an illegal immigrant with children who has been detained at the border?

This is every parent’s worst nightmare. I can’t even imagine what these families are going through. Things are changing quickly in the immigration world, under this current administration.

If you or someone you know has been detained, you can contact an immigration lawyer who can begin trying to reunite your family as soon as possible.

John Kelly -Trump’s chief of staff- was quoted as saying that the children would be “put in foster care – or whatever.” In reality, under the zero policy guidelines, unlawful border crossers will be taken into federal criminal custody, at which point their children are taken away.

As for the rest of us, we have to ask ourselves what kind of country we want to become, and make our distaste of this very cruel practice heard.

In 22 years practicing immigration law exclusively, I’ve never sided with a political party. In national and regional media appearances, in two languages, I called out the failings of four Presidents and various coalitions within both Houses on a host of immigration issues.

But it’s beyond my understanding of any law or regulation what motivates Sessions’ rulings.

There is No Way that President Trump can grasp nuances of complex jurisprudence. He is relying on advice of folks who have a clear agenda on immigration. And this is unreasonable.



Written by: Harlan York

Immigration Attorney Harlan York is Former Chair, Immigration Section, NJ State Bar Association and Former Co-Chair, NY State Bar Association CFLS Immigration Committee. Mr. York appeared on National Television on CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose and Primer Impacto on Univision, as well as Telemundo, NBC, and PBS. He was honored as First Ever Immigration Lawyer of The Year in NJ by Best Lawyers.

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