Stories of immigrant families separated at the border caught the public’s attention last month. The reports were certainly appalling: children crying after being forcibly taken from a parent, parents unable to locate children, inconsolable children forcibly drugged.
Yet, as horrific as these stories are, it is important to remember that immigrant families have been forcibly, traumatically and unnecessarily separated by the U.S. government for years. This includes families like the Villatoros in Iowa City who were devastated after husband, father, and pastor Max Villatoro was deported to Honduras in 2015. Like the vast majority of immigrants, Villatoro posed absolutely no threat to public safety and, in fact, left a huge hole in his community when he was deported.
Multiply this by the hundreds of thousands of immigrant families forcibly separated during the Obama administration and the tragedy is one of epic proportions. The fact that these parents were often taken while children were not present does little to lessen the trauma a child feels when they come home from school and mom or dad isn’t there, not knowing when, if ever, they will see that parent again.
Also under Obama’s watch, more than 2,000 children were put into foster care after the deportation of a parent. Similar to the current family separation policy, there was a clear lack of concern for the welfare of the children left behind.
And, though the Obama administration did not routinely separate families at the border (they considered it), they did consistently mistreat and dehumanize them, holding them in “iceboxes” and placing them in family detention facilities. In many ways, the Trump administration merely continued and built upon this shameful legacy. And both administrations largely ignored the root causes of this migration, including the often negative role of U.S. foreign policy toward Central America.
Today, families beyond the border continue to be separated. Individual deportations and workplace raids are on the rise. More than 300,000 immigrants will lose Temporary Protected Status by the end of 2019 and will have to decide whether to take 273,000 U.S.-born children out of the country they call home, or to live as separated families. Nearly 700,000 DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients live every day in uncertainly, many with children of their own from whom they could be separated if DACA is rescinded.
Let’s be clear: there is no reason to separate any of these families. There never has been. There is no public safety goal, no economic goal, no family-values goal served by detaining asylum seekers or by deporting immigrants en masse. On the contrary, studies show significant economic benefits to legalizing more immigrants and lower crime rates in immigrant communities.
There is no reason to separate immigrant families – no reason except racism and nativism (the ugly truth behind many U.S. immigration policies) and the billions of dollars spent on border security and immigrant detention that result in handsome profits for private companies.
Jesus’ teachings admonished those who would mistreat immigrants (Matthew 25:35) or children (Matthew 18:10). Urge your members of Congress to keep families together and end family detention.
As we approach November elections, be sure to ask candidates how they will undo the legacy of inhumane and discriminatory practices and work toward smarter, more compassionate immigration policies.