The Trump administration’s migrant policy has been troubling in many respects from Day One. Now, we are concerned that the administration’s decision to allow federal officials to hold migrant families inde finitely is another bad policy in the making.
Every nation has the right to protect and govern its border, and the U.S. is no different. But we also must remain a nation true to ideals of treating the people who come to us fairly and humanely. Eliminating a time limit on detention does not reach that ideal.
Instead, it circumvents a longstanding federal consent decree that provided basic standards for the detention of migrant children.
The issue is due process. Existing immigration policy gives the government a set amount of time — 20 days — to process initial asylum screenings. That ruling signaled that detention was a temporary step as migrants moved through the legal process.
The new rule would eliminate the time children and families can be held in detention, effectively allowing the government to house families in any of its detention facilities until they are either granted asylum or deported.
The administration says the changes will avert the need to separate families or release them while they wait for their cases to be heard. However, the administration also concedes that its intent is to scare migrants from presenting themselves at the U.S.-Mexico border. Speaking to reporters, the president went so far as to say that the threat would “make it almost impossible for people to come into our country illegally.”
Law is written and applied with an element of deterrence in mind. But the law itself must be fair to begin with or the deterrent is unjust. We must conclude that is the case with the threat of indefinite detention.
Asylum-seekers deserve a process that is clear and fair and that treats their claims seriously and adjudicates them justly. Not all asylum requests will pass muster with immigration courts, nor should they. The penalty for making an asylum request shouldn’t be months of uncertain detention, however.
There is room to debate whether 20 days provides enough time for immigration officials to review claims and whether there are better ways to prevent children from being used as pawns along the borders. However, such issues are for Congress and the president to resolve through comprehensive bipartisan commitment to addressing these and other unresolved parts of a broadly dysfunctional immigration system.
As a nation, we must secure our borders, block illegal immigration and regulate legal immigration. Temporarily detaining legal migrants without a set timetable for processing is an unjust denial of due process. It should be rejected.