Related topics

Cruel whether housed with military or not

May 22, 2018

The question isn’t whether immigrant minors can be humanely held at military bases. It is whether it is humane to inflict circumstances that cause them to be housed there — or anywhere else — at all.

It is not.

What are these circumstances? They will be detained after being forcibly separated from their parents, who will have been arrested on criminal charges for crossing the border — adding to the trauma from what was already a harrowing trek to come here.

This is being done to deter Central Americans from coming because their own countries are unable to protect them from marauding gangs that demand submission or joining — the alternative, death.

The Trump administration recently said that all people who cross the border without documents will be criminally prosecuted — essentially criminalizing action that had mostly been treated as a civil violation. But that means criminal detention for the offenders and, if they’ve brought children, these cannot be imprisoned with them.

They will have to be housed in facilities operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Those facilities are at near capacity, which is why HHS is looking at military bases — including three in Texas — to handle the overflow.

Even if the purpose of the detention of minors is to house them only until a family friend or relative can be found to take them in, parental separation is tantamount to child abuse — now, apparently, it’s official administration policy.

This conduct — separating children from parents — has a place only in those countries we think of as morally bankrupt. It is unbecoming of the ideals we’ve said we stand for.

Simply, the administration needs to rethink its criminalization of undocumented immigration.

Aside from the cruelty this will impose by separating children from parents, it is unworkable as a practical matter because it will overload an already burdened system. And that includes federal prisons and detention facilities and the courts tasked with prosecuting these illegal crossers.

Yes, asylum seekers — those who give themselves up at the border — will not be criminally prosecuted, according to the first descriptions of the new policy. And this likely means one of two things: the asylum process will be inundated because all will now seek that route for fear of being separated from children or, our bet, the administration will try to curtail the rights asylum seekers now enjoy.

There is currently a debate on whether, when the president described some immigrant crossers as “animals” recently, he was referring specifically to MS-13, the violent gang with roots in El Salvador. Though his direct quote made no mention of MS-13 — he spoke of the gang earlier at the same event — the danger of such rhetoric is its potential for causing the U.S. public to conflate those characteristics with all crossers — as if violent criminals are all who are crossing.

This was certainly the case — and, our view, the intent — with his broader statement during the campaign in which he referred to Mexican migrants as criminals and rapists. And when he questioned whether a judge could fairly rule in a case involving him because the Indiana-born jurist was “Mexican.”

In any case, it is easy to acknowledge that MS-13 is indeed cruel.

And it is just as easy to see the cruelty in separating children from their parents — and this is true whether the children will be housed at military bases surrounded by soldiers or in other facilities guarded by others.