Sonia Nazario writes:
“Last year 7-year-old Kendra Cruz Garcia and her 10-year-old-brother, Roberto Guardado Cruz, crossed the Rio Grande alone. When their tiny boat reached the shore, they started walking into Texas.
The Border Patrol agents who soon caught the Salvadoran siblings deemed them “unaccompanied” because no parent was with them. Children with this designation are granted special, well-deserved protections.
They aren’t subject to quick deportation and are entitled to a full hearing before an immigration judge. They can’t be held for long periods in immigration jails. Instead, they are transferred to child-friendly shelters operated by Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, and released, usually within a month, to a parent, relative or sponsor while their court hearings proceed. Instead of facing cross-examination by adversarial prosecutors, children are interviewed by an asylum officer trained to gently probe whether they qualify to stay in the country legally.
In other words, they are treated with kindness and decency by our government because they are innocent children.
But President Trump has decided to get tough on many of the 60,000 Central American children who arrive at our border each year begging for safety after fleeing some of the most dangerous places on earth. His executive orders, and memos from the Department of Homeland Security on how to interpret them, could strip this special treatment from the roughly 60 percent of unaccompanied children who have a parent already living in the United States. If Kendra and Roberto were just entering the United States now, they would fall into this group; instead they kept their protections and were eventually united with their mother, a house painter in Los Angeles.
Parents like her, the argument goes, are exploiting benefits established to help children who really are alone here. The administration has threatened to deport parents who send for their children or prosecute them for hiring smugglers.
Last week Mr. Trump’s press secretary said the president’s intention was to prioritize the deportation of immigrants who “represent a threat to public safety.” Supporters say he’s upholding the law. But these children are not threats, and there are many ways to preserve the integrity of our immigration laws while treating them humanely.”
I have written on a number of occasions that turning our collective backs on families and children in need of protection will come back to haunt us as a nation.