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Here are the facts why children are being separated from families at the border, and what the Catholic Church has to say about it

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By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)
6/19/2018 (6 months ago)
Catholic Online (

There is a lot of misinformation.

Children of illegal immigrants are being separated from their families and held in detention centers by the hundreds. This policy, which appears to be new, has sharply divided the nation. The Catholic Church has condemned it, while the Trump administration has refused to change it. What are the facts and what else can be done? 

Children are being held in detention centers like this former converted Wal Mart. Children are held while their parents are prosecuted under Jeff Sessions Zero Tolerance policy.

Children are being held in detention centers like this former converted Wal Mart. Children are held while their parents are prosecuted under Jeff Sessions Zero Tolerance policy.


By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)
Catholic Online (
6/19/2018 (6 months ago)

Published in Politics & Policy

Keywords: border, immigration, illegal, separation, children, Catholic Church

LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - The video is distressing. Crying children in cages, sleeping under emergency blankets, crowded together and herded like prison inmates by uniformed guards. What is happening and why? When did it start, and is there a better way? 

The nation is divided over the separation of immigrant children from their families. There is a substantial quantity of misinformation and political rhetoric swirling about the public debate. Here are some facts. 

-There is no federal law that requires children of illegal immigrants to be separated from their families.

-Dating back to the Obama administration and perhaps much further, families could be separated at the border. Family separation isn't new, but it was quite rare before April of 2018.  

-The spate of separations which has led to children being caged in detention centers began under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. As a member of the executive branch, Sessions has the legal authority to specify how immigration laws are to be enforced. In April 2018, Sessions announced that families smuggling children across the border would be separated. 

-The problem is that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is not making any distinction between those asking for asylum and those simply crossing into the United States illegally. Furthermore, Session's has ordered a "zero-tolerance" policy which requires that all people who cross the border without permission be charged with a crime and prosecuted by the federal government. 

-Since the parents are being referred for criminal prosecution, the children must be housed and detained. 

All this adds up to a change in policy that equals children being locked up in large holding cells by the hundreds. 

The images are distressing and the policy of the Trump administration feels draconian. But is it working? At the moment, it is impossible to tell as the debate is highly politicized and both defenders and detractors are citing separate statistics that claim the policy is both working, and not working. 

Regardless, the policy is unpopular. A bipartisan group of 70 former US Attorneys are calling on Sessions to end 'Zero Tolerance.' The attorneys say the policy is "dangerous, expensive, and inconsistent" with Justice Department values. 

The Catholic Church has blasted the policy. Several bishops have gone on record opposing the policy. Cardinal Danial N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called the policy "immoral" and said it "will erode the capacity of asylum to save lives."

Bishop Edward Weisenburger of Arizona has gone farther and suggested that Catholics who participate in these separations of children from their families be sanctioned from receiving the Sacraments, or possibly even excommunicated. 

It must be underscored just how severe and detrimental this policy is. This is not what we should aspire to be as a nation. It looks and feels, and is, capricious and cruel. It is inhumane and immoral. Children do not belong in cages, no matter what their parents may have done. It is indefensible. 

People who flee their homes are seeking refuge. Granted, not all who cross the border are seeking asylum. But even those people are human and worthy of some dignity. Their children are simply brought along. Why should the children be traumatized? Nobody is suggesting parents be given a free pass to disrespect the border or our nation's laws. But a better way must be found. The Church has made this clear.

Nations have a right to secure their borders. This is beyond dispute. Even the most rabid liberal will agree that we cannot simply open the border in a massive free-for-all. The security risk is too great and the eventual cost would be too high. Social service costs would spike while wages would be depressed by the influx of labor. It would change communities overnight, and generate upheaval and unrest. 

But there must be a way to secure the border and respect the dignity of each person who crosses. For one, we might reconsider prosecuting every person who crosses. It's expensive, time-consuming and it does not take into account individual situations. Next, there should be a way to keep families together. In the short term, it may be a tent city -- a common resort when dealing with large numbers of refugees. Later, proper facilities can be built to house people while we process their applications and make a decision. We can speed along the processing applications for asylum and immigration. We could do even more. In the past, we have released people into the country with a promise to appear in court. Some have broken their promise, but many more have kept it and cooperated. Surely even this liberal practice is more humane than mass incarceration and forced separation.

If we aspire to higher values, to be a moral authority and a paragon of human rights, then we need to act the part. It is an expensive proposition, but if we want to be the world leader, a paragon of virtue, then we must be prepared to pay the costs.

Regardless of when this began or who is to blame, from Obama to Trump, to Sessions, this is a problem for the current administration to handle. All who are responsible, both past and present, should be called to make a full public accounting. 

As expensive as it may be to treat people with dignity, the cost of not treating people with dignity is much higher. 

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