What would you do for your kids? To save their lives, would you undertake a dangerous trip? Would you risk getting robbed, raped, or even killed to get them to safety? I’m a mom to two small children, and my answer to all of these questions is yes. Would you see them pulled from your arms, crying and screaming, if it meant that they might live instead of die? Again, with a stab of anguish but without hesitation, I say yes.
I think we can probably all agree that these are choices that no parent should have to make. And yet, these are the choices that the Trump administration is trying to force on immigrant moms and kids. A week ago a report came out that under President Trump, the Department of Homeland Security is considering splitting up immigrant families who get to the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum. As soon as they are in DHS custody, kids would be literally ripped away and taken into custody by Health and Human Services, while moms would be detained alone in adult immigration detention facilities.
The numbers of parents—mainly moms—and kids fleeing the extreme violence and poverty of some Central American countries have surged since 2014. The Obama administration responded by imprisoning arriving mothers and children, and repeatedly buried and denied reports of the deplorable conditions in these “family” detention centers, and fought against court orders that they immediately release moms and kids. This was already undeniably shameful and inhumane. Now the Trump administration is promising to bring this cruelty to new levels.
Trump’s plan to separate moms and kids, like family detention, is being sold as a deterrent. The idea is that at the border moms would have to decide between having their kids taken from them and fighting to stay in the U.S., or leaving the U.S. immediately. And that moms considering making the trip to the U.S. would decide not to come. DHS Secretary John Kelly even had the gall to try to sell it as a policy to protect migrants by keeping them off the dangerous migrant trail.
But let’s talk about this smokescreen of deterrence is really hiding. I’ve studied U.S. detention and deportation for over ten years, and I can tell you: Power. Money. Racism. Responsibility.
Politicians will get votes by claiming that they are “doing something” to stop immigration and protect national security. The deterrence card even lets them paint this cruelty as kindness. But let me ask you: When has anyone who entered the U.S. across the U.S.-Mexico border ever committed a terrorist act? Never. And how about a mom and kid terrorist pair? Nope.
And guess who are among the biggest donors to politicians supporting detention? The prison companies running detention centers. The U.S. government pays almost $350 per day for children and parents detained. People are making serious money off of imprisoning mothers and kids, and they have lobbied hard for these policies. Since Trump’s election, private prison company stocks have skyrocketed, as stakeholders rub their hands in anticipation of Trump’s war on immigrants.
Now consider: When have you ever seen a white-looking kid in detention? You don’t. Make no mistake. Immigrant detention and deportation is about racist ideas of who can be “American.” Sure, the biggest groups at the US-Mexico border are Latino, but there are undocumented “white” kids, too. Are any in detention? No again.
Let’s not forget U.S. responsibility for these situations. U.S. meddling in Central America for more than fifty ears bred long-lasting instability. And the gangs now running the show were started by the children of immigrants who had grown up in the U.S., were pulled into U.S. gangs, and then deported to countries they didn’t know. Many Central Americans now face intense poverty, corruption, and despair. Violent crime and murder, including the targeting of women and girls. Gangs who force kids as young as grade school into their ranks under threat of rape or death.
So, what kind of twisted, cruel sorting tool is this idea of separating immigrant moms and kids? It follows this line of thinking: If your life really isn’t in danger, then you won’t risk it. But if you and your children really are in this danger and you do take the risk, then your reward—for really being in danger—is to have your kids pulled away from you. After both you and the kids have likely witnessed unspeakable violence where you started your trip (and why you started your trip) and along the way.
The policy of detaining families seeking safety is already so misguided and wrong. But this idea of splitting parents and kids takes moral depravity to new heights. It won’t make America any more safe. It won’t deter desperate moms from trying to get their kids to safety. Parents in Central America already know that many migrants en route are kidnapped, robbed, raped, killed. But they must weigh these risks against those all around them at home, and many decide that the only responsible choice—as a parent—is to try. And if they make it to the U.S., they face an impossible choice, one no parent should have to make.
Trying to sell separating moms and kids as a deterrent is disgusting. But it will make money for those detaining them. It will get votes for politicians. And it will rip to shreds any remaining moral authority the U.S. has to claim it is a leader of the “free world” and a protector of human rights.