Over the past two weeks, a chorus of voices has demanded an end to a policy that has seen adults and children separated at the border as they await processing by immigration officials. Across the mainstream news media, immigration officials are depicted as unnecessarily stripping children away from their parents, leaving families separated and traumatized.

But many reacting to the situation forget there is a sinister element involved at our southern border. And it is that sinister element that makes a solution to these problems very challenging.

For many Americans, being separated from their child by immigration officials is the worst thing they can imagine. But for many of those entering this country across our southern border, such a hardship scarcely qualifies amongst the worst things they’ve already experienced, much less imagined.

Liberals in knee-jerk fashion have called for an immediate stop to the policy of separating children and adults at the border. Current law prohibits immigration officials from housing adults and children together, so the only immediate solution would be a return to a policy known as “catch and release.”

Under the terms of a decades-old court ruling, immigration officials are prohibited from jailing children as they await immigration proceedings. That ruling led to decisions by the George W. Bush and Obama administrations to release children and adults into the public as they awaited hearings. That “catch and release” policy was recently reversed by the Trump administration which recognized that it effectively encouraged further illegal immigration and made children more vulnerable to exploitation by gangs and smugglers.

For families who are legitimately seeking political asylum, there must be a better solution than separation and detention. Thankfully, Sen. Ted Cruz is out this week with a policy proposal to keep families together while also expediting processing so that quick and appropriate decisions can be made.

But it is essential to remember that not every child paired with an adult who comes across our southern border does so as a family. Mixed amongst the legitimate asylum-seekers is a sinister element— those who are trafficking children into this country for exploitation.

“The kids are used as pawns by smugglers and traffickers,” said DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. “Let’s just pause to think about this statistic: a 314% increase in adults showing up with kids that are not a family unit. Those are traffickers. Those are smugglers. That is MS-13. They are criminals. They are abusers.”

A return to catch and release would mean the release of adults and children before any hearing and before any determination that the pair are, in fact, related. Human smugglers could be released, along with the victims they claim as their children. That’s not acceptable.

But even this matter is more complicated than it first appears.

According to DHS, 10,000 of the 12,000 minors currently detained at the border are “unaccompanied” and didn’t enter this country with a parent. Many are appalled to imagine parents placing their children in the hands of smugglers and sending them away, often to be raped and abused on the journey northward.

But yet again, they fail to recognize the sinister element involved in the dilemma faced by some parents in Central America.

In El Salvador, many parents are forced to make a nightmarish choice: send their teenage daughter north alone, likely to be raped during the journey, or have her stay and be taken as a sex slave by the terrorist gangs that control the country. It is the same with the boys: flee, and accept all of the danger that entails, or stay, and be pushed into a war zone and likely killed.

Crafting policy that fulfills American values of upholding the rule of law by deterring illegal immigration and human trafficking while sheltering legitimate asylum-seekers and keeping families united is a difficult proposition. Cruz’s bill appears to be the best one on the table at this time.

Americans of all political persuasions empathize with the difficult situation those in Central America  face, but if the rule of law is cast aside and the borders are flung open, the streets of Houston could become as dangerous as those in El Salvador. The individuals who work for border and law enforcement, as well as those in the halls of Congress, have a duty to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Crafting successful public policy is an arduous process on its own, but it is made harder by the sinister element in Washington.

One of the most startling facts about modern American government is that the longest-serving Republican Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, who served as the third most powerful person in Washington from 1999-2007, was a serial child molester and was convicted and sentenced to federal prison for his offenses.

It is well-recognized that power attracts megalomaniacal personalities. Without naming names or pointing fingers about something that is inherently difficult to prove, the fact remains that some not-insignificant minority of those in power in Washington operate with sinister motives and are not interested in the well-being of children. This makes the job of crafting policy that protects the weakest amongst us all the more difficult.

Americans can find a solution to the crisis at the southern border that protects children and families and upholds the rule of law. But it will require many Americans to snap out of their middle-class, suburban mentalities and realize that these matters are more complicated—and the world is a grittier place—than they may care to admit.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.


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