American Horror

This past weekend former First Lady Laura Bush wrote:

Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history. We also know that this treatment inflicts trauma; interned Japanese have been two times as likely to suffer cardiovascular disease or die prematurely than those who were not interned.

This spring Attorney General Sessions described a zero tolerance policy that would result in the separation of parents and children. “If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally,” Sessions said in May. “The laws are the laws. But a big name of the game is deterrence,” Chief-of-Staff John Kelly told NPR. “It could be a tough deterrent—would be a tough deterrent,” he added. This week, however, in reaction to the outrage about separating families, Kirstjen Nielson, the head of Homeland Security tweeted: “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.”  She means that the administration is “only enforcing the law.” Whatever your politics, it seems clear that the current administration has a new tactic: children are being used as human shields to dissuade people from coming to the United States for asylum or in search of a better life.

As Ms. Bush said: “I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”

Why is this relevant to a university president? In the spring of 2016, we announced that Wesleyan would treat DACA-eligible students as we do other domestic applicants. This means that these applicants, who have spent the bulk of their lives in the US, would have their full financial needs met if they were admitted to study here. In November, 2016, we declared Wesleyan a sanctuary campus, with two basic components:

  • Wesleyan will remain committed to the principles of non-discrimination, including equal protection under the law, regardless of national origin or citizenship.
  • Wesleyan will not voluntarily assist in any efforts by the federal government to deport our students, faculty or staff solely because of their citizenship status.

As I said at the time, “supporting these talented and deserving young people is the right thing to do, and is consistent with Wesleyan values and our commitment to equity and inclusion.” As I wrote last year, “Since our very beginnings, our country has been immeasurably strengthened by immigrants. Turning our backs on those in need today is worse than heartless.”

The heinous practices initiated by the United States government on the southern border are not consistent with our university’s values, nor our country’s. Listening to the cries of the children on the recording published this afternoon by ProPublica, I wonder what it will take for education leaders across the country to reject this viciousness.


We must stop these vile practices before they entirely erode our civic life. We in the education community depend on that life for our purpose and our practice. Let’s make our voices heard!


3 thoughts on “American Horror”

  1. Professor Emeritus John Finn would often stress the necessity of an engaged citizenry in averting what he broadly termed constitutional rot. Thank you for writing this and for your vocal commitment in support of these fundamental, shared values!

  2. The Trump administration is struggling to figure out how to enforce U.S. laws and keep keeping families together. The matter is made more complex and difficult because of loopholes and restrictions in current law.

    But it doesn’t have to be difficult and confusing. Congress can and should ensure that families are kept together and U.S. laws are well-enforced.

    How so? Here’s a checklist for Congress:

    Step 1: Close the Flores loophole. In 1997, the Clinton administration entered into the Flores Settlement Agreement, which allowed the government to hold unaccompanied children in detention for only 20 days, after which they must be released into the “least restrictive” environment possible. In 2016, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided this settlement also applied to accompanied children.

    When a family crosses the border illegally today, the U.S. government must release the child from detention after 20 days, even if the parents are still being detained. After being caught sneaking across the border, some parents claim asylum to avoid being deported, and these asylum claims can take months to assess. So the choice for the government is to detain the parents until their case is completed but release the child after 20 days, or to release the entire family, knowing many will never show up at their immigration court hearing.

    A simple fix here is for Congress to allow families to be detained together by overriding the Flores settlement. Congress should provide money for appropriate detention facilities.

    Step 2: Fix the asylum process. Violence in Central America and lax enforcement by the Obama administration encouraged individuals to come to the U.S. As a result, the number of asylum claims has increased dramatically. Credible fear interviews—Department of Homeland Security interviews of asylum-seekers before they get to an immigration judge—that were referred to an immigration judge increased from 5,100 in 2008 to almost 92,000 in 2016.

    Not only are claims increasing, but fewer claims are found to have met the definition of asylum—28,000 grants of asylum were made in 2012, but only 20,455 grants in 2016.

    There are several fixes to this. First, the U.S. should demand that asylum-seekers first seek asylum at our consulates in Mexico. Since they are not in the U.S., no one is detained and it’s also easier for legitimate asylum-seekers to make it there.

    Those who illegally cross into the U.S. and then claim asylum should have to explain why they didn’t seek asylum from other governments such as Mexico and why they didn’t apply for asylum at a U.S. consulate. The U.S. also should pursue safe third-country agreements with countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama, so asylum-seekers do not bypass those countries on the way to the U.S.

    Step 3: Fix crucial loophole. The well-meaning 2008 William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act contains a provision that requires unaccompanied children from countries other than Mexico to be released and put into the standard immigration court system. Congress should close this loophole so unaccompanied children from any country can be quickly returned to their family in their home country.

    Step 4: Support immigration courts and adjudication. Partly because of the broken process and loopholes discussed above, U.S. immigration courts have been overwhelmed. The average wait time for court appearances has increased from 438 days in 2008 to 721 days now. DHS asylum officers don’t have the time to get through pending claims, and the rest of the immigration court system is stretched to the breaking point.

    Congress should appropriate funds for more immigration court judges, prosecutors, and support staff as well DHS asylum officers. The system needs all these positions staffed appropriately if it is to function effectively. Congress also should consider housing some of these new immigration officials closer to the border or detention facilities.

    The U.S. can enforce its laws and keep families together but only if Congress acts. Indeed, several bills, including one by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; another by Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.; and yet another from Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., tackle at least some of these points. The new executive order by the administration cannot solve this problem. Rather than getting stuck on amnesty bills, Congress should turn to solving these issues.

  3. Why people like Roth are unfit to run a college, they ignore the facts

    Who truly is responsible for the 2,000 alien kids who, according to the Associated Press, recently have been separated from their detained illegal alien parents?

    There is a lot of blame to share. That includes President Bill Clinton and the alien parents themselves, as well as the courts and immigration policies foolishly created by the Obama administration. The perverse incentives in those policies have endangered the lives and safety of children and helped fund the deadly Mexican drug cartels that run the trafficking networks on our southern border.

    You would not know that based on the absurdly biased coverage and virulent protests that have occurred. The Trump administration is simply doing what it is constitutionally charged with doing—enforcing the law.

    The president on Wednesday issued an executive order that directs the Department of Homeland Security to keep illegal alien families together “to the extent permitted by law.” That is the crux of the administration’s problem: the extent to which the government is permitted to keep families together while they await removal proceedings.

    In 1997, the Clinton administration entered into a settlement agreement in Flores v. Reno, a lawsuit filed in federal court in California by pro-illegal immigration advocacy groups challenging the detention of juvenile aliens taken into custody by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

    The Clinton administration agreed to settle this litigation despite the fact the Supreme Court had upheld the Immigration and Naturalization Service regulation that provided for the release of minors only to their parents, close relatives, or legal guardians.

    According to the Department of Homeland Security, the Flores agreement allows the agency to detain unaccompanied minors for only “20 days before releasing them to the Department of Health and Human Services which places the minors in foster or shelter situations until they locate a sponsor.”

    But in a controversial decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, the most liberal in the country, has interpreted the settlement agreement to apply to “both minors who are accompanied and unaccompanied by their parents.”

    In other words, it is the 9th Circuit’s misinterpretation of the Clinton administration’s settlement agreement that doesn’t allow juvenile aliens to stay with their parents who have been detained for unlawful entry into the country.

    Of course, if those parents would simply agree to return to their home countries, they would be immediately reunited with their children. So those who come here illegally are themselves to blame for their children being assigned to foster care or to another family member or sponsor who may be in the country.

    The executive order signed by President Donald Trump directs the attorney general to file a request with the federal court in the Flores case to modify the settlement agreement to allow the government “to detain alien families together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings for improper entry or any removal or other immigration proceedings.”

    Of course, the administration’s critics know about this settlement and know it limits the ability of the administration to keep alien families together. The point of their propaganda war is to force the Trump administration to terminate its zero-tolerance policy of prosecuting all adult aliens for illegal entry, stop all detentions, and return to the “catch and release” policies of the prior administration.

    The executive order did not indicate the president was in any way relaxing the zero-tolerance policy. Unfortunately, an unconfirmed news report the day after the executive order was signed cited a “senior U.S. Customs and Border Protection official” as claiming the Department of Homeland Security was “suspending prosecutions of adults who are members of family units until ICE can accelerate resource capability to allow us to maintain custody.”

    If this is accurate, then many illegal aliens currently in detention will be released because of a lack of adequate family detention centers.

    “Catch and release” was the policy of giving illegal aliens a court date and then releasing them, a practice which enables many of them to disappear into the vast interior of this country. Such a policy is not a viable option.

    As Mark Metcalf, former immigration judge, points out, for example, after 9/11 the number of aliens who failed to show up for their immigration hearings reached 58 percent in 2005 and 2006. Over the past two decades, 37 percent of all illegal aliens released pending an immigration hearing fled and never showed up for trial.

    The Obama administration provided a huge incentive for illegal aliens to smuggle children across the border, since a child acted as a get-out-of-jail-free card for avoiding detention and prosecution for the adult accompanying the child. As the Department of Homeland Security correctly says, this policy “incited smugglers to place children into the hands of adult strangers so they can pose as families and be released from immigration custody after crossing the border, creating another safety issue for these children.”

    In 2013, a federal judge issued a searing indictment of the Obama administration’s policy of reuniting children with their illegal alien parents in the U.S. who had paid human traffickers to smuggle the children into the U.S. and taking no action against the parents.

    As Judge Andrew Hanen said in a case against a human trafficker who was caught with a 10-year-old girl, the administration’s policy was to complete “the criminal mission of individuals who are violating the border security of the United States.” He called the policy “dangerous and unconscionable” because it encourages illegal aliens to place their “minor children in perilous situations subject to the whims of evil individuals.”

    Hanen listed the crimes he had seen committed against illegal aliens by traffickers, including assault, rape, kidnapping, and murder, and catalogued the “violence, extortion, forced labor, sexual assault, or prostitution” to which the aliens were subjected. Funds paid to these human traffickers by illegal aliens directly fund dangerous drug cartels such as Mexico’s Los Zetas.

    Another reason for the current separation problem is illegal aliens trying to take advantage of our generous asylum law. If an alien follows the law by presenting himself at a port of entry with his family and claiming asylum, then his claim will be reviewed and his family will stay together.

    It is when aliens are caught illegally crossing the border and then claim asylum that they have put themselves into the situation of being prosecuted for illegal entry. They are then separated from their children because of the Clinton-era settlement.

    Something else to keep in mind when it comes to the credibility—or lack of credibility—of many asylum claims these days is that many aliens pass through countries with their own asylum laws on their way here—including Mexico. If an alien doesn’t claim asylum before he gets to the U.S., that is a pretty good sign his reason for coming to the U.S. is more about economics than asylum.

    This issue of alien children being separated from their parents who are being prosecuted for illegal entry also should be kept in perspective. Our justice system doesn’t refuse to arrest, prosecute, and jail citizens when they break the law because they happen to have children.

    As Peter Kirsanow, a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, points out, a report from the Department of Health and Human Services shows that more than 20,000 children were placed in foster care in 2016 because of “Parent Incarceration.”

    None of those protesting against the Trump administration seem concerned that 10 times more American children than the 2,000 alien children cited in the Associated Press report were separated from their parents in 2016 because of violations of the law by their parents.

    As Kirsanow says, it is “regrettable” children are separated from their parents. But “people who cross the border illegally have committed a crime, and one of the consequences of being arrested and detained is, unfortunately, that their children cannot stay with them.”

    It is not Trump who is responsible for this.

Comments are closed.