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Why Does Trump Separate Families, A Policy Or A Law?

A video released Monday by Customs and Border Protection

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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, rest in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas, June 17, 2018.
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, rest in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas, June 17, 2018. VOA

The Trump administration at least since April has been separating children and parents who enter the United States illegally at the border — that much is supported by the numbers. But much of everything else surrounding the practice has become mired in confusion.

Here is what we know:

In recent weeks, news stories of children in detention centers have circulated more widely, and the numbers of detained children have grown.

Department of Homeland Security officials told reporters Friday that between April 19 and May 31 of this year, nearly 2,000 (1,995) children were separated from their parents or other adults with whom they were traveling.

A video released Monday by Customs and Border Protection shows what appears to be humane conditions at a shelter site for children, but many worry that this video, the only video that has been released from within one of the detention centers, may not accurately depict them.

A policy or a law?

As criticism over the separation of parents and children at the border grows, the Trump administration has struggled to explain the policy.

Trump, himself, said the practice is the result of a law passed by Democrats, which has forced his administration into separating parents and children.

But there is no such law.

Rather in May, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero-tolerance” policy, which means that those detained entering the United States illegally would be criminally charged. This approach generally leads to children being separated from their parents because the law requires it.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks about religious liberty at the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center's annual leadership mission in Washington, June 13, 2018
Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks about religious liberty at the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center’s annual leadership mission in Washington, June 13, 2018, VOA

On Sunday, senior policy adviser to the Trump administration Stephen Miller told The New York Times that the crackdown “was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero-tolerance policy for illegal entry. Period.”

Administration officials, including Miller and Sessions, have defended the separation of families, saying that having children does not exempt anyone from the consequences of breaking the law.

“If you cross the border unlawfully, even a first offense, we’re going to prosecute you. … If you don’t want your child to be separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally,” Sessions told a gathering of the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies.

The administration has said the new practice is directed at combating a “surge” of unlawful border crossings. But the “surge” appears to be numbers marking a return-to-normal after a dip last year.

Not a new idea

Though the practice of treating all people who cross the border unlawfully as subject to criminal prosecution is new under the Trump administration, it is built on existing policies from the Bush and Obama administrations.

Amid a surge of unlawful migration from Central America to the United States in 2014, the Obama administration considered many plans to deter illegal border crossings, including separating parents and children. Ultimately, Obama decided against separations but did expand the detention of immigrant families. New facilities were opened along the border, which held women and children for long periods of time before their cases were processed.

Following widespread criticism after photos of detained women and children, accompanied by testimonies of people being held for extended periods, a federal judge in Washington effectively ruled that asylum-seeking mothers could not be held for longer than 20 days, leading to what has been called a “catch and release” system where adults were released with GPS ankle monitors tracking their movements until their cases could be heard in court.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks at the National Sheriffs' Association convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 18, 2018.
=U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks at the National Sheriffs’ Association convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 18, 2018. VOAU.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks at the National Sheriffs’ Association convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 18, 2018.VOA

But this “catch and release” system has been heavily criticized by Trump and his administration.

Also read: Trump Launched A New Attack On Mueller Probe In Russia

“This get out of jail free card for families and groups who pose as families has spread,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. “The word of this has spread. The smugglers and traffickers know these loopholes better than our members of Congress. I’m sad to say that from October 2017 to this February, we have seen a staggering 315 percent increase in illegal aliens fraudulently using children to pose as family units to gain entry into this country. This must stop,” she said. (VOA)

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U.S. To Begin Search Through The Remnants Of The Islamic State’s Final Enclave

SDF officials have raised the possibility that the remaining IS fighters may also be holding prisoners and hostages, but there has been no word as to their fate in recent days.

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Fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) patrol near the village of Baghuz in the Syrian countryside, March 20, 2019. VOA

U.S.-backed forces are starting to search through the remnants of the Islamic State’s final enclave in northeastern Syria, looking for fighters, mines and booby-trapped explosives.

The effort Wednesday to sift through the broken buildings and shredded tents that litter the landscape in the town of Baghuz comes a day after Syrian Democratic Forces took the area from IS fighters in what officials described as a significant blow to the terror group.

SDF officials said as many as 1,500 more people surrendered following Tuesday’s incursion into IS’s final stronghold, including hundreds of injured IS fighters.

Suspected Islamic State (IS) group fighters and civilians are screened by members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the village of Baghuz, Syria, March 20, 2019.
Suspected Islamic State (IS) group fighters and civilians are screened by members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the village of Baghuz, Syria, March 20, 2019. VOA

But concerns run high that fighters lurk in trenches dug all around the former IS enclave, as well as in a complex network of caves and tunnels, which some officials said could run for more than two kilometers.

An unknown number of IS fighters have also retreated to a sliver of land along the Euphrates River, and there are no estimates for how many fighters could be hiding in other parts of Baghuz.

“A group of Daesh in Baghuz still fight back and hold their families as human shields,” Zana Amedi, a media official with the YPG militia, which has been supporting the SDF offensive, told VOA Wednesday, using the terror group’s Arabic acronym.

Despite the official caution, small celebrations broke out Wednesday around Baghuz, with some groups of SDF fighters playing music and dancing.

“We have won. We have eliminated the enemy, the terrorists,” Majid Hejjo, an SDF fighter, told the French news agency.

“The comrades are tired, and the battle is over,” said another SDF fighter.

No ‘complete victory’ yet

In Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump was equally effusive, telling reporters on the South Lawn of the White House that the very last speck of IS-held territory would be liberated within hours.

“There is no red,” Trump said just hours after an intelligence briefing, showing off a map that compared IS-held territory now and the day he was elected. “In fact, there’s actually a tiny spot, which will be gone by tonight.”

Still, SDF officials and U.S. defense officials have been wary of saying the fight against the terror group’s self-declared caliphate is over.

It has been three months since Trump first announced the defeat of IS in a tweet,and more than a month since he told a meeting of ministers from coalition countries that the end of the caliphate “should be formally announced, probably sometime next week.”

More recently, multiple SDF officials have also forecast the fall of IS within days or even hours, only to see efforts slowed by fierce fighting and the presence of tens of thousands of civilians, mostly the wives, children and family members of IS fighters.

They now say more than 5,000 people have fled Baghuz since SDF resumed its final assault on IS just over a week ago, despite earlier saying only about 1,000 civilians and 300 fighters were holed up in Baghuz shortly after the operation to liberate the town got under way last month.

Smoke rises from the Islamic State (IS) group's last remaining position in the village of Baghuz during battles with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in the countryside of the eastern Syrian province of Deir el-Zour, March 20, 2019.
Smoke rises from the Islamic State (IS) group’s last remaining position in the village of Baghuz during battles with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in the countryside of the eastern Syrian province of Deir el-Zour, March 20, 2019. VOA

In all, SDF says more than 5,000 IS fighters have surrendered or been captured over the past month, while another 1,300 have been killed in the fighting.

The U.S.-led coalition also said Wednesday there has been no letup in efforts to ensure the terror group is defeated.

“The ground offensive, coalition airstrikes and artillery continue as needed,” coalition spokesman Col. Sean Ryan told VOA. “The SDF feel they are in control of the area, but as long as Daesh puts up any type of fight and hides in tunnels, they cannot declare complete victory.”

Fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) gather near the village of Baghuz, Syria, March 20, 2019.
Fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) gather near the village of Baghuz, Syria, March 20, 2019. VOA

‘Tens of thousands’ of fighters

SDF officials have raised the possibility that the remaining IS fighters may also be holding prisoners and hostages, but there has been no word as to their fate in recent days.

Thousands of SDF troops have massed around Baghuz for weeks, laying siege to the town in an effort to liberate the final IS enclave in Syria. Officials said Kurdish special forces from Iraq also had been brought in to help with the operations.

Also Read: After Failed Hanoi Summit, U.S. Imposes First North Korea-Linked Sanctions

Even once an official announcement is made, U.S. defense officials caution IS still has “tens of thousands” of fighters working either as part of sleeper cells or as part of an active, clandestine insurgency.

Additionally, senior officials believe most of the group’s senior leadership, including its self-declared caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remain at large. (VOA)