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Demonstrators protest the Trump administration policy that enables federal agents to separate migrant children from their parents at the border on June 5, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Elizabeth Warren Says Let's Be Clear: Trump Is Holding "Thousands of Kids Hostage to Try and Get Congress to Pay for His Stupid Wall"

"This is his policy," says senator, "and he can stop it."

Jon Queally

With national outrage boiling over the Trump administration's cruel and unprecedented policy of separating children from their migrant or asylum-seeking parents, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is calling out the president directly for both creating the crisis in the first place and now doing nothing to end it.

"The Trump administration's decision to prosecute parents for illegal entry was taken in order to create an excuse to separate mothers from children." 
—Brianna Rennix, Current Affairs

President Donald Trump, declared Warren in a tweet Monday night, "could pick up the phone and stop the separation of families seeking refuge in the US. Instead, he continues to hold thousands of kids hostage to try and get Congress to pay for his stupid wall. This is his policy, and he can stop it."

Warren's tweet also included a video highlighting the damage the atrocious policy is having on the children detained (in places that look like this and sound like this); detailing the origins of the policy; and countering the repeated false claims made by the Trump administration as it continues to defend ripping apart families:

While child safety advocates, immigrants rights groups, and progressive organizations announced a national march against the family separation policy for June 30th, administration officials—including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders—continue to obfuscate and lie about the nature of the policy and who is responsible for ending it.

As Trump continues to issue blazingly false statements about how this is all the Democrats fault, the Republicans with majorities in both the House and Senate are pushing several immigration bills at the moment, none of which appear likely to pass. As Tara Golshan explains in her rundown of the various legislation at Vox, "There's a world in which Congress could pass immigration reform.  We do not live in that world."

Meanwhile, Janet Gwilym, managing attorney for the Seattle branch of Kids in Need of Defense (Kind), which offers assistance to immigrant children and their families in  Washington state, told the Guardian, that it is an affront to treat these children and their families this way instead of welcoming and protecting them. "We have a moral responsibility to take them in. It's international law to take in refugees; that's who these people are – and instead we are just adding to the trauma that they are going through."

"This is as shocking an immigration policy as we've seen from this Trump administration, but frankly," Gelernt added, "I've been doing this work for approaching three decades, and this is the most horrific immigration policy I have ever seen."

"I've been doing this work for approaching three decades, and this is the most horrific immigration policy I have ever seen."
—Janet Gwilym, attorney

But it's not a mistake or a miscommunication, say experts. It's an intentionally cruel policy with a specific political design.

Writing for Current Affairs, Brianna Rennix, a journalist who has written extensively on U.S. immigration policy, offered a detailed explanation of Trump's "monstrous" child separation. Exploring a crucial point—and one worth quoting at length—she worries many people do not recognize, Rennix writes:

Children are NOT being taken from their parents simply because the government wishes to prosecute their parents for illegal entry and the children cannot accompany them to jail. That makes it sound like these separations are simply incidental to a separate enforcement policy that the government decided to pursue.

The reality is actually just the opposite. The Trump administration's decision to prosecute parents for illegal entry was taken in order to create an excuse to separate mothers from children. As I’ve said, the irritating problem the Trump administration has been struggling to overcome, with reference to the many thousands of bona fide asylum seekers that come to the border, is that a) lots of them are moms with kids, b) kids can’t legally be kept in more restrictive custody than absolutely necessary, and c) there is a federal court decision, legally binding on Trump administration, that states that when you release children from detention who are detained alongside their mothers, the mothers have to be released too.

This is what Trump and Sessions have meant when they have talked cryptically about “loopholes” that are “forcing” them to release asylum-seekers into the interior. There are lots of asylum-seeking moms that the government would otherwise have preferred to have kept locked up in hidden border facilities, without any meaningful ability to recruit counsel, for the entire duration of their cases. But because these moms had a child detained with them, they couldn’t do this.

Separating kids from moms thus serves two purposes. One is deterrence. It's designed to send a gruesome message to women contemplating fleeing Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico: If you come here looking for protection, we will take your child away from you. As a deterrence tactic, this is likely to be extremely effective. Even if you were trapped in a house with someone you thought might murder you and your child, would you readily run for help to a next-door neighbor who happens to be a notorious child kidnapper? That alternative is so horrific that you would teeter a long while before you chose it. You might think to yourself that trying to placate the would-be murderer is a better bet than throwing yourself on the mercy of the kidnapper. A lot of women are going to get murdered as they hesitate over this monstrous ultimatum. (Jeff Sessions, who is apparently a Christian, had better hope that Christianity turns out to be bunk, because otherwise he is going to burn for eternity. I myself am rooting strongly for Christianity to be real!)

The second and perhaps even more critical purpose of family separation is to ensure that moms who are still brave enough and desperate enough to come here will lose their cases. There are not nearly enough competent immigration lawyers along the border to meet the needs of all the people who come to ask for asylum. In the past, when the government was forced to release moms with kids, these families could go settle anywhere in the country they chose, and have their case adjudicated in the local immigration court in their new place of residence. Because they weren’t detained, they had the ability to actually recruit a lawyer to help them. And a lot of them settled in parts of the country, like California or New York, where the immigration judges actually, you know, sort of care about people not being murdered, as opposed to border judges, who are mostly looking for any colorable reason to say “no” to a case. Now that the government is starting to separate moms from kids on a large scale, it is possible we will start to see moms detained in border facilities for the entire duration of their cases. They will be unrepresented and facing unfriendly judges. They will lose.

I think it is important to understand that these family separations are not just a byproduct of brute over-prosecution of "illegal" entry. Rather, they are part of a concerted strategy to allow the government to avoid granting people asylum, and to circumvent the courts' few, limited attempts to legally impose humane limits on their treatment of asylum-seekers.

So the policy is cruel. That is really clear. What's also important to remember is this: the Trump administration is carrying out this policy precisely because of its cruelty. It's not a side effect—it's the whole point.

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