By now, most of us have heard about or seen the harrowing pictures of children as young as 12-months-old being separated from their parent at the U.S.- Mexico border. Many of us are rightly outraged at this inhumane treatment and intentional infliction of trauma upon these children and their parents. However, many of you may not know about the process for seeking asylum or family detention and are being misled by those who want to portray the current administration in a positive light. I have recently been to two detention centers, including one for families, and I studied immigration and asylum in law school, so I know that this zero-tolerance policy being used to rip families apart is anything but positive (to read more about my experience click here). Below are four myths about asylum and separating families at the border. If you hear someone stating one of these as truth, please correct them. And, if you have shared one of these myths, please learn the truth.
1.There is a law that requires separating children from their parents at the border.
The rule that children have to be separated from their parents is only used when the parent is charged with a federal crime. Before this zero-tolerance policy was enacted, very few migrants were charged with committing a federal crime requiring them to go to federal jail. Many are seeking asylum which is not illegal (more on this in number 2). The few migrant adults that were charged with a crime were separated from their children, but this was the exception not the norm. Families seeking asylum at the border are detained near the border and then shipped to one of three family detention centers in the country. They would be detained there until they had a credible or reasonable fear interview which determined if they could pursue asylum or would be deported. In the past two months, that process has changed under the Trump administration and all migrants at the border are charged with a crime and separated from their children. The law is enacted because the policy requires it be applied.
2. It is illegal to cross the border, so this policy is just.
This myth attempts to justify charging migrant adults with a crime and, as a result, separating them from their children. But it is not illegal to seek asylum. In 1968 the U.S. adopted the United Nation’s 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. This treaty establishes the policies for defining refugees and granting asylum that each country must follow. If people can establish that they have a well-founded fear of persecution based on their membership in a particular social group, they can petition to receive asylum. Most of the people at the border are seeking asylum but are being charged with a crime or denied entry. They are not breaking the law; the law is not being applied correctly to them.
3. President Obama did the same thing.
This is another myth to justify the position of this current administration. Separating children from their families should not be about a political party, but this myth perpetuates the lie that we have been separating children from their families for years. During Obama’s term, there was a spike in unaccompanied minors crossing the border and they were detained. During this period, there was also an increase in families crossing the border which led to the establishment of the three family detention centers we have now. But during the Obama presidency, there was no zero-tolerance policy that demanded every adult migrant crossing the border be charged with a federal crime and then separated from their children.
4. If we separate children from their families they will stop coming.
Some of us want to believe that separating families will deter migrants from crossing the border to seek asylum. Perhaps, if we truly understood the conditions in their home country that prompted them to flee, we would realize that nothing short of death will stop someone from doing whatever it takes to protect their family. For some migrants, it takes a month or longer to walk to the U.S.-Mexico border. A month with very little water and food. A walk so dangerous, that migrant females take birth control before they leave because they expect to be sexually assaulted on the journey. If people are willing to risk their lives to escape persecution and death, nothing will deter them. No one wants to have their child taken from them at the border but staying home waiting to be persecuted is not an option.