Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced a policy change for the Department of Homeland Security in its dealings with arriving aliens seeking asylum. And it’s not good.
The new decision could effectively separate family members traveling to the United States due to the Department of Justice’s “zero tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings. In short, adults could face criminal charges and their children could be taken away from them.
There is no subtly here. No understanding. No nuance.
Sessions says he will be directing all federal prosecutors to levy every individual crossing the U.S. border with federal misdemeanor or felony charges. He described the move to a group in Arizona:
“So, if you cross the border unlawfully, even a first offense, we’re going to prosecute you. If you’re smuggling a child, we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child to be separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally.”
Essentially, that even legitimate asylum-seekers could face charges or wind up with convictions, just for pursuing the safety that the U.S. Congress allows.
If that sounds awful, or not fair, that’s because it isn’t.
This new move on Sessions’ part amounts to a paradox for those wishing to enter the country for asylum.
On one hand, Congress says that as a society we value and respect human dignity. On another hand, this administration clearly wishes to use those fleeing their homes in fear as political chess pieces — all to demonstrate its “toughness” on border security and curry favor with its base.
This is not the position the United States of America, a country of immigrants, should take. Nor is it what the refugee or asylum laws of the U.S. afford. This affronts our American ideals and traditions. It embarrasses us on an international scale.
The United States should be at the vanguard of swiftly, humanely, and fairly applying immigration laws. Rather, the Trump administration chooses instead to punish those who fear harm abroad with no sense of any of these values.
Today, I remind the Trump administration and Attorney General Sessions that these are people.
They are not thought experiments or ways to get a bump in mid-term polls.
Boston Cote is an attorney in the Austin and San Antonio, Texas. If you’d like to contact her, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on Facebook.
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