Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has been accused of being somewhat soft on her boss's signature issue, not entirely without justification. But she is standing firm, so far, against the wave of hysteria accompanying family separations accompanying the administration's attempt to enforce the border. As she told the National Sheriffs' Association today, "We have to do our job. We will not apologize for doing our job. We have sworn to do this job."
The manic wave of "concentration camp" accusations and Hitler comparisons is reminiscent of the atrocity propaganda that helped propel us into World War I (stories of Germans "bayoneting Belgian babies", raping nuns, and the like). Democratic politicians are weeping on television, staged photos are widely retweeted, and even former President George Bush's wife has penned an op-ed calling for a "kinder, more compassionate" means of enforcing our immigration laws.
The reality is more mundane. Border apprehensions of adults bringing children with them skyrocketed during the Obama administration, from about 15,000 in Fiscal Year 2013 (the first time separate statistics were reported) to more than 75,000 in FY 2017. Before the Obama years, it was rare for a parent to bring children with her when trying to infiltrate the U.S. border. No parent, after all, would subject her children to such risks unless there was an incentive to do so.
And that incentive was not flight from gang violence; research has shown almost everyone leaving Central America is motivated by economic reasons. Instead, the prospect of being released into the United States if you brought a child with you was what has caused the spike in arrests of what he Border Patrol calls "family units" at the border.
As the New York Times reported earlier this year:
Some migrants have admitted they brought their children not only to remove them from danger in such places as Central America and Africa, but because they believed it would cause the authorities to release them from custody sooner.
Others have admitted to posing falsely with children who are not their own, and Border Patrol officials say that such instances of fraud are increasing.
Children have served as get-out-of-jail-free cards for border infiltrators, ensuring the whole family's release with a notice to appear in immigration court some months or years in the future, and when they failed to appear, the Obama administration's prioritization rules meant no one would track you down.
When you reward something, you can expect to get more of it.
How to change the expectations of prospective illegal aliens? Stop rewarding them when they bring children along. This is what the administration has done. In resuming the Bush-era zero-tolerance policy at the border, the Justice Department is aimed at prosecuting every border infiltrator for the crime of "entry without inspection", a policy that even Sens. Flake and McCain vociferously supported when Obama rolled it back. But since children don't accompany their parents to jail, the critics of this policy are implicitly demanding that border-jumpers bringing children with them should be exempt from prosecution — a sure recipe for even more children to be smuggled through Mexico and to the Rio Grande.
In addition to criminal prosecution (which results in only a few days in prison for first offenders) the other reason illegal-alien children are separated from their illegal-alien parents at the border is when the parent claims asylum. Only a small percentage of Central American illegals actually get asylum, but they've been coached by smugglers and anti-borders activists to make the claim anyway as a means of gaining entry to the United States. The government's choice at that point is to detain the parents and put the children in a shelter (because of legal prohibition on keeping children in detention for more than 20 days, even with their parents) or to release the whole family with a notice to appear, which they will ignore, disappearing into the illegal population. Again, the critics of current policy are saying that bringing a child with you when you ask for asylum should exempt you from detention, i.e., give you access to the United States, after which you disappear.
These problems could be fixed with legal changes present in both immigration bills expected to be voted on this week, as my colleague Andrew Arthur explained earlier today. The alternative is to surrender to the use of children as human shields against immigration enforcement, which will only invite even more widespread use of children as tickets to America, not only for Central Americans but also for illegal immigrants from around the world using Mexico as a springboard to sneak into the United States.