In 2015, the Washington Post wrote a scathing report on the government’s practice of separating undocumented immigrant children crossing the border from their parents. It sounds almost exactly like the reports circulating now, which place the blame for the inhumane practice at the feet of Donald Trump.
However, the main difference between the 2015 and the 2018 reports is the direction of the blame. While President Trump receives the direct blame for the practice now, in 2015, President Obama’s name isn’t mentioned once in the story.
There’s a reason for that. The story makes it clear that the practice of keeping children separated from parents initially began on the local level, often because immigration officials saw that juveniles were being exploited by human traffickers and smugglers. The practice of separation had been going on for years, but this reasoning gave it justification and legitimacy. It became a more common border patrol practice and then adapted as policy by federal immigration officials.
The practice expanded as a matter of practicality, as it was difficult to keep children with parents who were often detained with other adults they did not know. The potential for abuse was high, so separation was necessary. At least initially.
As more facilities have been opened at the border to accommodate immigrants, it is easier to keep families together. But the Obama-era policy has not changed.
“Why don’t we remove these juveniles from the smuggling cycle?” (Agent Robert) Harris, the outgoing commander of the Laredo sector of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, recalled thinking.
Now, as a result of that decision, young Mexicans are being held for months without charge in shelters across the United States, sometimes without their parents’ knowledge. Since the program began in May, 536 juveniles have been held — 248 of whom have been deported to Mexico after an average stay of 75 days, according to Border Patrol statistics. Mexican authorities say some of these repeat border-crossers have spent as much as six months in U.S. custody while they await an appearance before an immigration judge.
While the move was originally meant to deter children from being exploited by smugglers, it had far-reaching effects every undocumented child who crossed the border. The separation of child from parent has been going on for years, and in states like Arizona and Texas, the use of fenced pens – which are now being called “cages” by Trump critics – were often employed as a temporary way of holding children until they can be processed and sent to more humane living quarters.
Even now, the stays in these fenced pens is usually short, from hours to a few days. Yet, the outrage over the practice was non-existent, until Donald Trump became president.
Democrats who now claim they were unaware of the practice are either lying or incompetent, as immigration groups, human rights groups, and the ACLU have protested the practice since the Obama era. With no changes made by administration officials at the time.
Now, both Democrats and Republicans seem ready to set law to end the practice. Sen. Ted Cruz has drafted a bill allowing children to stay with their parents while being processed and detained. Democrats have drafted similar legislation, and while the Trump administration has defended the practice as necessary under current guidelines, they now admit a willingness to end the practice.
And still, President Obama seems to have escaped criticism for a program he allowed to fester on his watch for years.