Protesting Draconian Child Separation Policy

Letter to Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen

June 6, 2018

I was deeply distressed to learn of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) announcement that it would begin separating children from their parents when they present themselves at the US-Mexican border, and have been horrified by the testimony and recent coverage of those families who have been subjected to this draconian policy.
Both Attorney General Sessions and Chief of Staff Kelly have justified the child separation policy by stating that those who cross the border are doing so illegally, and in committing a crime essentially deserve whatever they get. To suggest that the commission of a crime can be used as a justification for the state to terrorize families and children is abhorrent. Equally abhorrent is the effective erasure of asylum seekers in the discussion of these policies – when someone crosses the border to escape violence and terror, they are not committing an illegal act, and to treat it as such and meet them with similar violence and terror is a tragedy that degrades our democracy and the expressed ideals of our nation. 
Historically, immigration has been a place where the gaps between American ideals and American policies have been most apparent. The United States has a long legacy of restricting immigration, generally based on racist or ethnocentric beliefs about who “belongs” here, and we have long subjected immigrants to levels of state surveillance and violence that we would not accept for our citizens. The creation of DHS, and with it Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has brought with it a massive expansion of this kind of surveillance and other apparatuses to facilitate deportations, with most of the focus on immigrants from Mexico and Central America. According to Detention Watch, the average daily population of detained immigrants has grown from roughly 5,000 in 1994 to over 39,000 in 2017. As guidance on who ICE should be pursuing has loosened, it has become increasingly clear that ICE agents are pursuing immigrants indiscriminately and with little consideration for the collective impact of their actions on families and communities. The overwhelming impression is that DHS and ICE are not pursuing justice, but instead maximum harm.
The problems that plague our immigration system are not new, nor are they specific to the current administration. However, the child separation policy, and the inclination to traumatize children and families and ignore our obligations to asylum seekers by seeking to deter those who would hope to find refuge reflects a new low in our willingness to dehumanize a group of people based on their immigration status.
I urge you to act swiftly to end the child separation policy enacted earlier this month, and implore you to take additional steps to make our immigration system more just and humane.