Our border policies on children: a bipartisan travesty

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It’s unacceptable to abuse and terrorize children.

As Americans, we shouldn’t need to debate that. Yet here we are.

Much has been made in the last week of how we treat children at the border, and that we somehow misplaced 1,475 of those children.

All of this sparked much outrage — as it should — accompanied by pictures of children sleeping on floors in chain-link enclosures like stray dogs. And that outrage fueled much partisan finger-pointing.

Abused and missing children, it seems, are great fodder for our dysfunctional party politics.

Problem is, in the rush to draw party lines and point fingers, the facts got blurred over the last week.

Those widely-distributed pictures of kids in cages? Those were from 2014 — under President Obama — when U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was struggling to process and place a surge in unaccompanied minors crossing the border.

The 1,475 missing kids? Those were predominantly misplaced under the Obama administration, and all before the current policy of unnecessarily breaking up immigrant families.

Celia Muñoz, Obama’s director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, told NPR on Tuesday 80 percent of undocumented children taken into custody during the previous administration were released to their parents.

The 1,475 misplaced children, she opined, likely were placed with family members who also were undocumented, and simply went “off the grid.”

At about the same time, the ACLU released a 30,000-page report May 22 alleging widespread abuse of children in CBP custody.

The horrors in that report were latched onto and widely attributed to Trump’s new policy of separating children from their families.

But, the alleged incidents in the ACLU report happened during the previous administration.

Democrats and President Obama are not blameless in the way we treat kids at the border, and the recent attempts to attribute all evils in our border policies to Trump and Republicans are misplaced.

Our treatment of and processes for placing children who cross our border have been a broken system for years — under presidents Democratic and Republican.

But, contrary to the president’s claims (lies), intentionally separating kids from their families isn’t a Democratic policy. It’s his policy, designed to terrorize and deter families fleeing oppression, starvation and death.

We’ve taken a broken system that couldn’t address minors separated from their parents by horrible circumstances, and expanded that broken system to intentionally break up families. Our government has become the horrible circumstance.

As Muñoz put it to NPR: “This is a new decision, a policy decision, made by the attorney general (Jeff Sessions) which puts us in league with the most brutal regimes in the world’s history.”

All of this is justified by the president’s persistent allusions that all immigrant children are criminals-in-waiting, somehow destined to become members of MS-13.

Trump had this to say of undocumented minors last week: “They look so innocent. They’re not innocent.”

If you’re going to rip children from their parents’ arms, you need to vilify them and stoke fear to justify what should make us cringe.

Problem is, the president’s fear-mongering about all brown-skinned Spanish-speaking youth being criminals is refuted by CBP’s own data.

Carla Provost, acting CBP chief, told Congress last June the agency had apprehended about 250,000 unaccompanied minors since October 2011.

Of those, 56 were suspected or confirmed to have ties with MS-13, according to the Washington Post.

That means about 0.02 percent of the “not innocent” unaccompanied minors had real or suspected ties to the president’s favorite bogeyman, MS-13. Expressed as a decimal, that’s a two with three zeros in front of it.

But, facts won’t stop either side from using these kids as political pawns.

The question of how we treat immigrant children, and their families, should not be a partisan issue. It’s not even legitimately an immigration issue.

It’s a human decency issue. For people of faith — and I mean, of any faith — this is a faith issue. For Christians, unnecessarily breaking up families fleeing for their lives — that’s a policy we’d be hard-pressed to justify with the Gospel.

We can disagree about immigration. We can disagree about politics, parties, philosophy and funding.

But, intentionally and unnecessarily separating children from families seeking asylum, and plunging them into a system replete with allegations of abuse — that’s unconscionable.

It wasn’t just one party that got us into this mess. Likewise, the basic belief in treating children with compassion and decency should span all our party differences.

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