The scripts and media images are indelible. Roughly 2,300 minors from south of our border are living in temporary shelters in the U.S., many of them sobbing over separation from their parents, in the process winning the hearts though not necessarily the minds of morally unctuous politicians, corporate executives, journalists and clergy. These pop-up humanitarians are using the crisis as a pretext to denounce President Trump and prod Congress into enacting pending amnesty legislation.
Their bluster should be ignored. This is a stage-managed crisis. Its intent is to embarrass the current administration whose “crime” is enforcing laws long neglected by previous administrations. That Trump caved into his critics by signing an executive order on June 20 barring family separations, predictably, has not quelled the outcry.
In recent months, illegal immigration from Mexico, often by people passing through Mexico, has exploded. In a press conference held Monday, June 18, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen laid out the situation:
"…(I)n the last three months we have seen illegal immigration on our Southern Border exceed 50,000 people each month – multiples over each month last year. Since this time last year, there has been a 325 percent increase in Unaccompanied Alien Children and a 435 percent increase in family units entering the country illegally. Over the last ten years, there has been a 1,700 percent increase in asylum claims, resulting in an asylum backlog today, in our country of 600,000 cases.
"Since 2013, the United States has admitted more than a half a million illegal immigrant minors and family units from Central America – most of whom today are at large in the United States.
"At the same time, large criminal organizations such as MS-13 have violated our borders and gained a deadly foothold within the United States."
This is an accurate assessment. Yet high-minded cynics are determined to put the Trump administration on trial. Our nation is a haven for victims of persecution, they say. As such, any attempt to separate children from their lawbreaking elders, even for a few weeks, constitutes a gross human rights outrage.
The setting for this moral theater is longstanding federal law mandating the federal government to provide temporary support for alien minors unaccompanied by detained parents who entered illegally. The much-publicized detention centers are not “concentration camps.” The Trump administration put forth its “zero tolerance” policy for illegal entry into the U.S. not to punish children, but to discourage further wanton lawbreaking. This policy is intended to prevent suffering of children, not impose it. It is authorized by the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Homeland Security Act.
Unfortunately, many opinion leaders in this country are reading something sinister into this. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in an interview on MSNBC’s “All in with Chris Hayes,” accused the Trump administration of “using these children as hostages.” In a tweet, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the zero-tolerance policy “an affront to the decency of the American people.” Former First Lady Laura Bush, in a guest opinion piece for the June 17 Washington Post, wrote, “This zero-tolerance policy is cruel.” Apple Computer CEO Tim Cook denounced administration enforcement as “inhumane.” And avowed Trump supporter Franklin Graham, head of the nonprofit Samaritan’s Purse and son of late evangelist Billy Graham, called the family separations “disgraceful.”
Such comments are blind to reality. The current border crisis is the culmination of decades of laws, policies, court decisions and enforcement practices pushed by open-borders fanatics. And almost without question it is being timed to facilitate congressional passage of amnesty legislation. Wrapped in the rhetoric of bipartisanship, such legislation, far from resolving the border crisis, would exacerbate it.
Let’s look at some inconvenient facts.
Most of the unauthorized immigrants entering the U.S. through the Mexican border actually are from Central America.
According to information from the dozens of Mexican consulates located here, fewer than 25 of the roughly 2,300 minors taken from their parents – about one percent – are Mexican. The vast majority are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras; most unaccompanied Mexican children already have been deported. It is a mark of the failure of Mexican authorities as well as our own that our southern border remains porous despite large increases in U.S. Border Patrol deployment.
Many “parents” of these children are anything but that.
Many of the people who brought the children here are smugglers, known colloquially as “coyotes,” who for a price take people from Mexico and drop them off at unspecified U.S. locations not far inland. Obviously, these children did not have the money to pay the smugglers. Someone is covering the expense. These smugglers are not humanitarians. They don’t do anything for free. They are akin to operators of “rescue ships” ferrying African migrants across dangerous Mediterranean waters to Europe. Even with coyotes out of the picture, many adults accompanying the children who come here are not their parents. When debriefed by law enforcement, many cannot answer even basic questions about their supposed offspring.
The parents, not the Trump administration, have created “family separation.”
Even assuming that asylum-seeking adults who transported minor children to the U.S. are the parents, they have a lot to answer for. They effectively are using these children as political cover in an effort to win asylum status. And in making that long trip from Central America into the U.S., they are exposing their children to a wide range of dangerous situations, both natural and man-made.
Many adults who seek asylum are coached to lie.
Under federal law, an alien who enters our country illegally must demonstrate a “credible fear” of persecution back home to avoid removal. Many are gaming the system. It is an open secret that asylum-seeking adults from abroad are coached on how to concoct tales of woe in filling out a written application and then explaining their situation in face-to-face interviews. This is a racket. Back in 2012, fully 26 individuals, including several lawyers, were indicted in Manhattan federal court for submitting fraudulent applications on behalf of alien applicants.
The Trump administration has been trying to move unaccompanied children to long-term housing.
The administration is doing everything it can to find alternatives to detention centers. Unfortunately, this task requires coordination with outside parties. And it’s not necessarily getting it. Three commercial air carriers – American, United and Frontier Airlines – each recently announced they will not fly unaccompanied alien youths from “cages” to dormitory-style shelters in various states. This high-minded response will have the unintended effect of keeping kids in detention centers that much longer – a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There is something contemptible about using children as love objects for political gain. The current crisis started long before Donald Trump moved into the White House. For decades, Congress, the courts and a succession of administrations have allowed our nation to be overwhelmed by illegal immigration freeloading from the U.S. public benefit trough. The Trump administration is trying to manage the consequences. Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen said Monday: “Congress and the courts created this problem, and Congress alone can fix it. Until then, we will enforce every law we have on the books to defend the sovereignty and security of the United States.” She’s right. And any subsequent immigration legislation must reflect the national interest. America is still a nation, not a borderless global sanctuary.
Carl F. Horowitz is senior fellow at the National Legal and Policy Center, a Falls Church, Va.-based nonprofit group dedicated to promoting ethics and accountability in American public life.