Where was all of this outrage about family separation at the border four years ago? That’s the question mainstream reporter David Martosko is asking about the 24/7 news cycle on current U.S. immigration policy. Like a lot of people, he’s astounded by the firestorm over America’s law for dealing with illegal immigrants for one reason: it’s not new.
In this noisy back-and-forth between the Trump administration and mainstream press, it’s become tough to separate fact from fiction. We all see the pictures of the kids huddled in an old Walmart supercenter, and our minds immediately jump to the conclusions the media is hoping for. But, as Martosko chides his colleagues behind news desks, “Political journalism needs a bit of housecleaning on this child border crisis. I’ll start,” he posts. “It was going on during the Obama years in large numbers. I never wrote about it. [I] was completely unaware, in large part because few reporters were interested enough to create critical mass… Why didn’t those kids matter as much as these? Few of us chased those stories down with any vigor.”
What’s changed? The person in the oval office, for one. Barack Obama separated children from their families too. As Breitbart points out in its “13 Facts the Media Doesn’t Want You to Know,” people crossing the border illegally were put in the same criminal justice system. “Obama, of course, rarely prosecuted, even though the law calls for it. Neither Democrats nor the media cared about family separation then — which proves this manufactured and coordinated uproar is only about politics.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who’s just as unhappy with the current immigration system as the rest of us, joined me on “Washington Watch” this afternoon to give us his unique perspective on the situation.
“We are a generous nation on issues of immigration, as you know. We put more than one million people a year on the pathway to citizenship, but there are so many holes in the system that it’s like Swiss cheese… and those who break in line are getting ahead and placing children at risk. We need legislative reform, and we need to do a better job of carrying out the laws we have… I can’t imagine many people saying they want the illegality to continue.”
Like me, he’s hopeful that all of the attention the media is giving this issue might actually be an opportunity to get something done. Maybe, we agreed, this controversy will bring all sides together to come up with what’s really needed in this country: comprehensive reform. But, he explains, there’s also a side to the story that the liberal press isn’t reporting.
“What we’ve seen in recent years is more and more families were [crossing the border illegally], and the reason we discovered that was happening was that we weren’t prosecuting adults with children. They were getting into the country, they were apprehended… and then they were released and asked to come back to court. And some came back to court, and some don’t come back to court. So they’re basically in the country and never returned home… In 2013, we had 14,000 like that. In 2017, we had 75,000. It became well known that if you came with a child, you weren’t going to be deported or prosecuted. And this created a massive loophole for us, and we have to try to close that loophole.”
Like Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tried to counter the liberties people are taking with the truth. In doing so, she made a key point: 10,000 of the 11,000 children in detention centers have been unaccompanied minors. In other words, a vast majority of kids in those photos making the social media rounds arrived alone and were already separated from their families. And, as Sessions pointed out in our interview, U.S. officials can’t assume these children are actually related to the adults who bring them across the border. Sometimes, they’re being trafficked or exploited by people posing as their parents in hopes that they’ll get preferential treatment.
Just as importantly, these children (and their parents) aren’t being mistreated. As Sessions himself pointed out, Americans spend close to a billion dollars a year caring for these kids. “We have high standards,” Nielsen told reporters. “We give them meals, and we give them education, and we give them medical care. There are videos, there are TVs. I visited the detention centers myself.” And, in most cases, the children don’t stay. “In the last fiscal year, 90 percent of apprehended children were released to a sponsor who was either a parent or close relative.”
Some of Trump’s opponents claim that this situation is different than how we deal with domestic lawbreakers. Richard Mack, founder and president of Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, joined me on radio to suggest otherwise.
“If moms and dads have committed crimes, the children will be removed to foster care. Sometimes, they’ll be removed to other relatives… but the children are definitely separated from their mom and dad when their mom and dad commit crimes… This is the normal, routine policy and procedure in dealing with parents who have committed a crime… It is no different than what is happening with border crimes committed every day by illegal immigrants. That everybody tries to dump this on Trump somehow, I find totally astonishing.”
That said, as Sessions insisted, “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.” That was a fact he emphasized to a group of evangelical leaders — including me — at a meeting in Washington, D.C. today. He said he’s been talking with House and Senate members to find a solution: immigration policies that are just, fair, and enforceable.
The administration knows the system is broken — but that doesn’t mean the president is going to turn his back on the current law while Congress fixes it. If the president’s critics are so incensed by the current situation, then it’s time for them to come to the table and negotiate a solution.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.