Americans Divided over Family Separation Policy

18 June, 2018

The policy of separating children from parents illegally seeking entry at the United States border is dividing Americans. More Republicans spoke out against the policy as Democrats called for changes.

In April, the administration of President Donald Trump announced a "zero-tolerance" policy that brings legal action in all cases of illegal entry at the U.S. border.

Under the policy, U.S. federal agents separate parents, who are seeking asylum or attempting to enter the U.S. illegally, from their children. U.S. law bans detaining children with their parents because the children are not charged with a crime and the parents are.

In this photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people who've been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States, rest in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas.
In this photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people who've been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States, rest in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas.

But the law was rarely enforced under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Over a six-week period ending in May, U.S. Homeland Security officials said that nearly 2,000 children had been separated from their families.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the policy during a speech in Fort Wayne, Indiana last week. He said, "Having children does not give you immunity from arrest and prosecution."

Sessions added, "The law requires that children who cannot be with their parents be placed within the custody of DHS [Department of Homeland Security] within 72 hours, something entirely different than the criminal justice system."

Critics of the policy

Some American religious leaders, however, denounced the policy.

At a conference of U.S. Catholic bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said in a statement, "At its core, asylum is an instrument to preserve the right to life."

He added, "While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety. Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral."

Speaking to the Christian Broadcasting Network, Reverend Franklin Graham, a long-time supporter of President Trump, called the policy "disgraceful." But he blamed "politicians for the last 20, 30 years that have allowed this to escalate to the point where it is today."

Over the weekend, more Republicans added their opposition to the policy.

Former first lady Laura Bush voiced her opinion in The Washington Post newspaper. "I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral," she said.

She compared it to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine said she supports tighter border security. But the Republican senator is concerned about the child separation policy.

She said, "What the administration has decided to do is to separate children from their parents to try to send a message that if you cross the border with children, your children are going to be ripped away from you."

Even first lady Melania Trump, who has not entered policy debates, voiced her opinion on the emotional issue. Her spokeswoman said, "Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform."

Is it policy or politics?

Trump has blamed the Democratic Party for actions that separate children from parents when families illegally cross the border with Mexico.

The president wrote on Twitter that the Democrats were responsible for the legislation. He then said that any immigration bill should provide money for a wall at the border with Mexico. He called for an end to a policy of catching and then releasing people charged with entering the country illegally. And he called for major changes to immigration laws.

Adam Schiff is a Democratic member of Congress from California. On a Sunday morning news program, NBC's Meet the Press, he accused the Trump administration of using the issue to gain support for building a border wall. He said Trump was trying to force Congress to pass legislation.

Kellyanne Conway is an advisor to the president. She rejected the idea that Trump is using the policy to force negotiation on immigration and the border wall.

She was asked whether the president was willing to end the policy. Conway said, "The president is ready to get meaningful immigration reform across the board."

Trump plans to meet with House Republicans on Tuesday to discuss pending immigration legislation.

I'm Mario Ritter.

Hai Do wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

zero-tolerance –adj. to apply the rule without exceptions

immunity –n. to being subject to some burden or legal requirement

prosecution –n. facing legal action in a court of law

custody –n. the care or guardianship of someone

allow –v. to permit, to let happen

escalate –v. to become more intense

appreciate –v. to understand

internment –n. to be detained in a place away from others

sides of the aisle –expression both sides of an argument, of both political parties

across the board –expression in all cases

pending –adj. not yet decided or acted on