Editorial

In this age of the viral video, there is no good answer to pictures of big, beefy border patrol agents taking wailing toddlers from their mothers’ arms and locking them in chain-link pens.

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This article was published 18/6/2018 (1033 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In this age of the viral video, there is no good answer to pictures of big, beefy border patrol agents taking wailing toddlers from their mothers’ arms and locking them in chain-link pens.

U.S. President Donald Trump and his colleagues tried to say it was all the fault of the opposition Democrats, but Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, announced the new policy on April 6 and put it into action in early May. The Trump administration has to wear this one.

In this photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people who've been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States, stand in line at a facility in McAllen, Texas, Sunday, June 17, 2018. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Rio Grande Valley Sector / The Associated Press)

In this photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people who've been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States, stand in line at a facility in McAllen, Texas, Sunday, June 17, 2018. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Rio Grande Valley Sector / The Associated Press)

Mr. Trump won wide support from a section of the U.S. public two years ago by promising to stop migrants from entering the U.S. — especially at the Mexican border — without first seeking government permission. Until recently, thousands of people entering without papers could apply for refugee status and join the long queue for a hearing.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Butch Comegys / The Times-Tribune)

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Butch Comegys / The Times-Tribune)

Mr. Sessions announced in May that everyone entering the country without papers would be detained and prosecuted for the crime of entering the U.S. illegally. In practice, this means that parents are clapped in one prison and children travelling with them are taken from them and put into the hands of the overburdened Health and Human Services Department.

Mr. Sessions’ aim was to discourage parents from entering the country in the first place for fear of seeing their children taken from them.

Border Patrol agents have taken around 2,000 children from their parents in this way under Mr. Sessions’ policy. The fear of losing their children has clearly not been enough to stop the flow.

Mothers fleeing with their children from gang violence, domestic abuse, despair, the certainty of pain and the likelihood of early death are not deterred by the risk of separation from their children. They cling to the hope that they will slip through the dragnet and disappear into a U.S. city.

After crossing the Rio Grande River at night with the help of smugglers, a group of mainly women and children from Central America are detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents before being taken into detention. (Carolyn Cole / TNS files)

After crossing the Rio Grande River at night with the help of smugglers, a group of mainly women and children from Central America are detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents before being taken into detention. (Carolyn Cole / TNS files)

In the same way, migrants to Europe from Africa and the Middle East know that many of them will die crossing the Mediterranean from Libya, but still they come. Their reasons for fleeing their homelands outweigh the obstacles and dangers thrown in their way.

Mr. Trump’s solution is to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. But if the storm-tossed Mediterranean Sea cannot keep migrants out of Europe, how likely is it that a border wall will keep equally desperate people out of the United States?

Mr. Trump’s solution is to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. But if the storm-tossed Mediterranean Sea cannot keep migrants out of Europe, how likely is it that a border wall will keep equally desperate people out of the United States? (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Mr. Trump’s solution is to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. But if the storm-tossed Mediterranean Sea cannot keep migrants out of Europe, how likely is it that a border wall will keep equally desperate people out of the United States? (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Plenty of Americans are happy to help refugees enter the country and survive in its nooks and crannies, out of sight of the authorities. The more cruel the authorities become, the more eager those good-hearted people will be to join in defying the government.

Mr. Trump’s other solution is for the Democrats in Congress — who are the minority in both houses — to come and negotiate with him about immigration law reform.

But the Democrats are not the government. Mr. Trump is the government.

He commands a majority in Congress. He and his attorney general instruct the border patrol. At the most crass political level, the Democrats have everything to gain from prolonging this abuse of power because it makes the Republican administration look really, really bad — heartless, unprincipled, indifferent to the plight of defenceless people who are just trying to do the best for their tiny children.

Mr. Trump may not find a good solution for the wave of migrants. But he will have to stop taking children out of their mothers’ arms.