Former U.S. Attorneys Disingenuously Weigh in on Separating Parents from Children

By Dan Cadman on June 22, 2018

A group of former U.S. attorneys who served under both Republican and Democratic administrations wrote a letter this week to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to urge him to "end child detention."

There is no doubt that this is an emotionally charged issue, but the letter reflects a strangely lopsided view of the ongoing issue of separating children from their parents — when that occurs — and of the even larger issue of the flood of minors who are crossing our border in record numbers daily, sometimes unaccompanied by family but in the hands of smugglers and cartel members; sometimes in the company of one or both parents; and sometimes in the company of imposters hoping to ride their way to a get-out-of-jail card through false association with the child.

Perhaps that's because only three of the 75 signatories were U.S. attorneys in districts immediately proximate to our southern border: two from the District of New Mexico, one from the Southern District of Texas.

Note also that one of the signatories is Sarah Saldaña. Affixing her signature to this letter is shockingly disingenuous. Not because Saldaña wasn't at one point a U.S. attorney; she was. No, the problem with her signing the letter is that she was, much more recently, a director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) appointed to the position by then-President Barack Obama. While it's true that under Obama's White House, ICE enforcement actions were eviscerated in the interior of the country, it's equally true that when the first groups of unaccompanied minors and family units started garnering intense public attention — not only for their en masse illegal crossings, but for their failures to show up at immigration court after release — Saldaña's ICE was responsible for taking custody of these individuals from the Border Patrol and, often enough, separating minors from their parents. I don't recall any contemporaneous media accounts of Saldaña registering her dismay or moral objections then.

Of course, that any of the former U.S. attorneys signed the letter smacks of no small amount of hypocrisy. Any number of U.S. citizen parents were arrested and charged with crimes, and prosecuted under their watch. Every time that happened, the U.S. Marshals Service (and later, if convicted, the Federal Bureau of Prisons) separated these parents from their children when detaining and incarcerating them for their offenses. How is that different? Is there another moral standard to be used? Why and on what basis? If there is a difference, it is that in the main, the U.S. parents did not knowingly and willingly expose their children to the dangers of illegal transcontinental crossing of multiple borders, often using the most unscrupulous smugglers and traffickers known to mankind.

In fact, The Hill published an article this week entitled, "Opioid crisis sending thousands of children into foster care". Here are the first three paragraphs:

The opioid epidemic ravaging states and cities across the country has sent a record number of children into foster and state care systems, taxing limited government resources and testing a system that is already at or near capacity.

An analysis of foster care systems around the country shows the number of children entering state or foster care rising sharply, especially in states hit hardest by opioid addiction. The children entering state care are younger, and they tend to stay in the system longer, than ever before.

Among states hardest hit by the epidemic, the populations of children in foster or state care has risen by 15 percent to 30 percent in just the last four years, The Hill's analysis shows. In other states, the number of children referred to child welfare programs has ballooned, even if those kids do not end up in foster care.

I'm wondering when we will see a letter from these luminaries expressing moral outrage over the separation of children from families where this matter is concerned. Or is their outrage selective?

It rings false when the signatories suggest that "When parents and their children arrive at our border, particularly when they come seeking the protection of the United States under our asylum laws, we witness a universal story of humanity: parents willing to face all odds to protect their children." (Emphasis added.)

It is a peculiar notion of "protecting" one's children to subject them to hundreds of miles of weather extremes ranging from steamy jungle to freezing desert nights; to expose them to all manner of poisonous insects and reptiles; and then finally to put them in the hands of predatory monsters such as smugglers and cartel members who are often known to physically or sexually abuse their victims, hold them hostage to extort larger smuggling fees, divert them into the sex trade, or simply abandon them to die of dehydration and exposure if they can't keep up.

What's more, surveys of likely migrants within the sending nations (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador) show that much more often than not, these individuals migrate for economic reasons. (See here and here.) The statistics reflecting the rate of approvals vs. denials also show that most do not meet the legal threshold for being granted asylum. So the rhetoric of the letter simply doesn't match the reality.

Here is the harsh reality: Illegal alien parents, whether they are traveling with minors or have paid smugglers to bring them are using these children in the most callous of ways to ensure their own path to into the United States and, ideally, legal status through either amnesty or petitions filed by their children if they are at some point recipients of the kind of amnesty now being debated in the Congress.

The signatories also say this:

Every administration for decades has grappled with the complexities inherent in families illegally crossing our borders. Until now, every administration has chosen a path that has balanced the need for effective enforcement and deterrence with humanity and compassion.

Once again, the rhetoric doesn't meet the reality. It is because other administrations failed in their responsibilities to secure the border that we have now reached this abysmal point. Illegal border crossings of family units and unaccompanied minors are up by huge percentages (in several Border Patrol sectors by more than 500 percent), and since 2014, more than a half-million children and family units have crossed the border illegally.

Even now, as Congress contemplates an amnesty for illegal aliens who came — or were brought — to the United States illegally as minors, we need to ask what we are going to do a generation from now about the additional half-million. Are we destined for serial amnesties because we lack the moral courage or intellect to stop this cycle of children being put into the hands of criminals and gang members for movement across hundreds of miles of international borders? If so, then we are complicit in the offense.

It would have been so much more palatable if this body of former officials had used their collective brain power and influence to offer solutions rather than castigation for what has become a national dilemma.