Images of children in large cages created by chain-link metal fencing and a former Walmart-turned-migrant shelter near the U.S. border with Mexico have turned attention to the Trump administration's …
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In mid-June, President Donald Trump blamed Democrats for the family-separation policy, saying it was a result of “their law,” national news outlets reported. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said on Twitter, “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions put the blame on two legal decisions.
Those rulings and laws are, as national outlets have reported:
• A 1997 result of a lawsuit — called a “federal-consent decree” — that requires the government to release all children caught crossing the border, known as the “Flores v. Reno” settlement. It limits the amount of time children can be held in immigration detention to 20 days.
• According to a 2016 court decision, the Flores settlement requires the federal government to release all undocumented-immigrant children, whether they crossed with parents or on their own. That decision came from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. It does not prevent the government from releasing parents along with children while their immigration cases are processed.
• A 2008 law meant to curb human trafficking called the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, signed into law by former President George W. Bush. Certain migrant minors must be released under the law's terms, but it doesn't require family separations.
A person’s first offense of illegal entry into the U.S. is a misdemeanor, but previous administrations have made exceptions, such as for adults traveling with minor children, according to The New York Times — though President Barack Obama's administration detained adults and children together before a court ruling required the limit for children. After, an exception was effectively made for parents and children to be released while they await court proceedings.
The government’s limited resources mean it has to prioritize prosecutions of some over others, which allows for previous administrations' decisions not to prosecute some types of cases. The Supreme Court has said the government holds “broad discretion” as to whom to prosecute.
“The immediate cause of the crisis is (the Justice) Department's recent institution of a 'zero tolerance' policy,” wrote 13 Republican senators in a letter to Sessions.
Images of children in large cages created by chain-link metal fencing and a former Walmart-turned-migrant shelter near the U.S. border with Mexico have turned attention to the Trump administration's “zero-tolerance” policy toward illegal entry into the country in recent weeks.
But the administration reversed course — to an extent — with a June 20 executive order that aims to detain and hold migrant families together, instead of separating children from their families during the process.
In the days leading up to that shift, a growing chorus of critics including Republican lawmakers decried the policy.
“We support the administration's efforts to enforce our immigration laws, but we cannot support implementation of a policy that results in the categorical forced separation of minor children from their parents,” said a letter written by 13 Republican senators, including Colorado's Cory Gardner, a Republican from Yuma, that was addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and released June 19.
But with more than 2,300 children already separated from families in May and early June, the ripple effects — for families, Congress and the White House — will likely continue to reverberate.
The practice began in April, when Sessions announced a zero-tolerance policy to prosecute as many border-crossing offenses as possible, national outlets reported. As a result, virtually all adults crossing the border are subject to criminal prosecution, with their children taken and placed in shelters. One such location is a former Walmart in Brownsville, Texas, with dorm-style bedrooms. It houses about 1,500 boys and had to act to expand its capacity in recent weeks, national outlets reported.
A detention facility in nearby McAllen, Texas, one of the places where families are held together initially, uses a series of large chain-link cages where groups of people sit in areas with small mats and "Mylar"-type thin, plastic blankets, the Associated Press and other outlets reported.
Some migrants at certain entry points along the border can attempt to seek asylum — legal status for people who have been persecuted or fear persecution based on race or other characteristics — but even some asylum-seekers have been turned away and told facilities are too full for them, several outlets have reported.
About 500 of the more than 2,300 children separated from families have been reunited, a Trump administration official told the Associated Press June 22, but it was unclear what the ongoing process to reunite families would be. A government hotline was set up to help parents locate children, but lawyers said some parents have been deported without their children, the New York Times reported June 17.
Meanwhile, Colorado's lawmakers and governor have weighed in on the policy:
• “Americans of all political stripes have spoken out against this immoral policy. Yet the president and his administration continue to perpetuate falsehoods and blame others for their own cruelty,” said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Denver, in a statement.
• “Tearing children from the arms of parents and then isolating them alone is antithetical to the America I grew up in, and to the America that I have many times fought to defend,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican from Aurora, in a tweeted statement. “This isn't who we are.”
• “Enough is enough. (Homeland Security) Secretary Nielsen should resign or be fired from her post,” U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat, said in a news release. “She has overseen an unprecedented humanitarian crisis ripping away thousands of young children from their parents without a clear path to reunification.”
• “Despite days of lies and misdirection, it is clear President Trump had the authority to stop these inhumane practices all along,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat from Arvada, in a statement.
• The Trump administration's “practice of separating children from their parents when arriving at the southern border is offensive to our core values as Coloradans and as a country,” an executive order signed June 18 by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper said. The order bars Colorado from using state resources to separate children from their parents or legal guardians on the sole ground of immigration status.
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