California Officials Blast President’s New Proposal to Keep Immigrant Families in Detention Indefinitely
President Trump moved to end his administration’s policy separating children from immigrant parents who cross into the U.S. illegally — but California elected officials and activists blasted the new practice of detaining immigrant families together indefinitely.
Under an executive order Trump signed Wednesday, immigrant families that cross the border illegally will be kept in detention centers together, potentially for months as their asylum cases proceed.
California leaders argued that the president’s order traded one dehumanizing system for another, while doing nothing to reunite the thousands of kids who’ve been separated with their parents.
“This Executive Order doesn’t fix the crisis,” tweeted Sen. Kamala Harris. “Indefinitely detaining children with their families in camps is inhumane and will not make us safe.”
Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Santa Clara, called the move “a very small nod towards decency” but argued that locking kids up with their parents “is not a solution.”
It’s also unclear whether Trump’s order will stand up to legal muster. The White House is hoping to get around a 1997 settlement that prohibits the federal government from keeping children in immigration detention for more than 20 days. Administration lawyers will petition a Los Angeles-area federal court to modify that settlement and allow kids to be detained for longer with their parents.
The president’s policy change came after days of uproar over audio and photos of kids as young as a few months taken away from their parents.
“Putting children in the same cages as their parents isn’t a solution,” said Jose Servin, an activist with the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance. “This is a ploy by the White House to distract people from the real issue of whether we’re detaining children at all.”
Under the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy introduced earlier this year, immigrant families who cross the border illegally are separated, with parents facing federal prosecution on illegal entry charges and children placed into the care of the Department of Health and Human Services.
In past administrations, most immigrant families were released while their immigration cases proceeded, and were not charged criminally for illegal entry if they didn’t have prior criminal records. Trump and his allies argue that some immigrants released did not show up for court cases.
“We’re going to keep families together, but we still have to maintain toughness or our country will be overrun by people, by crime, by all of the things that we don’t stand for,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday.
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Activists are especially concerned that there isn’t a formal system for reuniting immigrant parents with their children after their court proceedings are over. More than 2,300 minors were taken from their parents between early May and early June, according to statistics from the Department of Homeland Security.
“Family detention is not the answer at all,” said Manoj Govindaiah, director of Family Detention Services at RAICES, the Texas nonprofit legal defense fund which was the recipient of more than $13.7 million in donations by Wedesday afternoon from a Facebook Fundraiser campaign launched last weekend by a Silicon Valley couple outraged at the Trump policy separating families. “Children should never be incarcerated. While this executive order might address the families, it’s not a workable or viable solution to the Administration’s treatment of children.”
The donation windfall will expand the charity’s ability to represent children and parents going through the immigration court system and partner with like-minded organizations to provide training for volunteer lawyers and other services, he said.
Reuniting those kids with mom and dad should be the administration’s “top priority,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a statement.
“President Trump has finally recognized his folly, but this humanitarian crisis should have never happened in the first place,” she said.