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Column: Our government must stop separating families

Few issues divide our nation quite as much as immigration. Nearly every period of American history was accompanied by a wave of migrants, traveling from some far off land in search of new opportunities and a greater quality of life.

Whether from China, Ireland or Japan, in each of these periods immigrants have often been the subject of xenophobic acts and legislation.

Today is no different. As of the publication of this column, around 2,000 children have been separated from their parents who were arrested upon trying to enter the country illegally. Many of these children, who were separated under the Department of Justice’s “zero-tolerance policy” on undocumented immigrants, are being held in facilities, such as an abandoned Walmart.

Some children who are separated from their parents are sent to Estrella del Norte, a non-profit that before the “zero-tolerance policy” housed children who crossed the border unaccompanied. In a recent Los Angeles Times article, Antar Davidson, who recently left his job at the facility, opened up about what it looked like once children torn from their parents were put into the shelter.

He describes the shelter as having all of the necessary things for physical needs, such as showers, beds and bathrooms, but points out a huge hole when it comes for emotional needs. Davidson recalls a time when three siblings were brought in and he was ordered to not let them hug each other. The kids were 16, 10 and 6.

In the article, Davidson said while working at the shelter children ran away, became violent and some attempted suicide. Now several children are under watch because of concerns of suicide and self harm, and the chance they may run away.

Having a tough stance on immigration is one thing (it’s a position held by many Americans), but traumatizing children to the point of suicidal tendencies by forcibly separating them from their parents transcends political ideology.

The Trump Administration has stated that the law requiring the separation of families was put into place by Democrats, and that they are merely enforcing it. Trump even stated on Twitter that “Democrats can fix their forced family breakup by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change!”

Here’s the thing — it’s not a law and it never has been. According to a New York Magazine article, the Bush and Obama administrations never enforced such a policy. While a suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union for abuses conducted by Border Patrol against unaccompanied minors during the Obama era, it was not policy to separate children who crossed the border with their parents.

No matter what political allegiances you may have, it is impossible to ignore that blaming Democrats for the current situation is a lie. There’s no other way to put it.

Instead, this president’s administration sought to implement this policy on its own, and is now seeking to alleviate itself of any blame. Meanwhile, thousands of children remain separated, with little to no knowledge of what will become of them or their parents. How could they know? They’re only children.

This is a policy that affects New Mexico more so than many other states. It shares a large border with Mexico, and a Pew Research study found the state is home to over 85,000 undocumented immigrants as of 2014.

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The policy is also supported by Gov. Susana Martinez, who said in an interview with the Albuquerque Journal that “we don’t let people who break the law continue to be out breaking the law simply because they have children.”

However, immigration policy can, and has been, enforced without the breaking up of families that traumatizes everyone involved.

If the government fails to rectify this tragedy, it will go down along with the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese Internment Camps as one of the worst acts the United States has ever committed against immigrants. And just like those previous policies, history will look down upon this moment as a time when the government let its fear of the “other” dictate how it treated other human beings.

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