Sophie’s Choice: 2018 (Trump Edition)
As a matter of policy, the US government is separating families who seek asylum in the US by crossing the border illegally.
Dozens of parents are being split from their children each day — the children labeled “unaccompanied minors” and sent to government custody or foster care, the parents labeled criminals and sent to jail.
To many critics of the Trump administration, family separation is an unpardonable atrocity. Articles depict children crying themselves to sleep because they don’t know where their parents are; one Honduran man killed himself in a detention cell after his child was taken from him.
But the horror can make it hard to wrap your head around the policy.
Family separation isn’t sudden, nor is it arbitrary. While the Trump administration claims it’s taking extraordinary measures in response to a temporary surge, it is entirely possible this will be the new normal.
To be clear, there is no official Trump policy stating that every family entering the US without papers has to be separated. What there is is a policy that all adults caught crossing into the US illegally are supposed to be criminally prosecuted — and when that happens to a parent, separation is inevitable.
Typically, people apprehended crossing into the US are held in immigration detention and sent before an immigration judge to see if they will be deported as unauthorized immigrants.
But migrants who’ve been referred for criminal prosecution get sent to a federal jail and brought before a federal judge a few weeks later to see if they’ll get prison time. That’s where the separation happens — because you can’t be kept with your children in federal jail.