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Stop the cruel separation of families at the border

A 2-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her

A 2-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents before being sent to a processing center for possible separation. Credit: Getty Images / John Moore

With each story of heartbreak and trauma, and each lie from officials seeking to explain and defend, it becomes easier to see the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their migrant parents for what it is — an immoral and indefensible practice at odds with the values and principles of America.

It is wrong in virtually every way, and President Donald Trump and his allies only make it worse by continuing to lie about it. That’s not to say the nation does not have a problem with illegal immigration. But this is not the way to address it.

The practice of cleaving families entering the country illegally across the Mexican border is not a matter of law and it’s not the fault of Democrats. It is a policy promoted and inspired by White House adviser Stephen Miller, announced in April by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and embraced by Trump, who can end it at any time all by himself.

The policy has not been the deterrent promised by Chief of Staff John Kelly; instead, there has been an uptick in border crossings since it was enacted.

It is not what God wants, as Sessions has suggested. In his twisted reading of the Bible, Sessions cited Paul’s letter to the Romans to obey the laws of government “because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.” That’s an alarming statement to be made by the gatekeeper of our law enforcement system. Its historical context is even more chilling: The same passage was used to justify slavery and Nazi appeasement.

On top of blasphemy, there is cynicism. Trump is using the wrenching removals of children, some in diapers, as a bargaining chip to get his border wall and other concessions on immigration from Democrats.

Now, much of the country is in an uproar in a turning-point moment Trump didn’t see coming. Evangelists are peeling away, with Franklin Graham calling the policy disgraceful. First lady Melania Trump and former first ladies including Laura Bush have raised objections; Bush said the practice is cruel and immoral. The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics calls it child abuse.

GOP congressional leaders — including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — have shamefully abdicated their responsibility to decry the policy and demand its immediate halt. When pressed for a clear statement of his position, Rep. Lee Zeldin, a steadfast defender of Trump on most issues, told the editorial board that he does not support the practice of separating families — a stance shared by every member of Long Island’s delegation. Rep. Peter King, the senior member of the local delegation, says Trump can stop and “find a better way” to deal with the Mexicans and Central Americans who are seeking asylum at the Southern border.

Miller is most responsible for this abhorrent policy that forces parents with possible asylum claims to abandon the process due to the damage done to their children. Never mind his outrageous pressure that led to the cancellation of temporary protected status for hundreds of thousands of people who have been living here legally for years. It’s time for his resignation.

The blowback was so strong Monday that Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen was flown from New Orleans to Washington to handle questions at the daily briefing, and continue the task of misleading the nation. She had falsely said there is no policy of separating families, then reversed herself and said the administration does not apologize for its actions.

At the White House Monday afternoon, she doubled down. Blaming the courts and Congress for creating the mess, she asked Congress repeatedly to close “loopholes” she said led to the forced separations. But there are no loopholes and her appeal to Congress was disingenuous — no one expects Congress to act, and certainly not quickly enough to end the ordeal of the children already in detention.

Trump can stop the crisis by signing an executive order suspending such separations, and that’s exactly what he should do.

Nearly 2,000 young children were separated from their parents from April 19 to May 31, according to DHS. Some parents don’t know where their kids are or whether they’re being cared for, and have had difficulty contacting them. Released parents get only a 1-800 number to try to locate their children. Detention center staff generally are told not to touch, hold or hug kids who cry and need human contact. Older teens in the same holding pens are changing diapers and comforting them.

Illegal immigration is a problem. It needs to be reduced, and reform of our laws is badly needed. But violating our nation’s values to do so cannot be justified.

Children are being separated because Sessions decided to enforce a “zero-tolerance” policy and criminally prosecute parents entering the country illegally, and federal law and settlements in previous litigation prevent kids from being jailed with their parents. An executive order from Trump would require a return to the policy of detain and deport, where families can be in detention together. Then Congress must finally pass comprehensive immigration reform.

The separation policy is not happening in a vacuum. Trump also is trying to clamp down on legal immigration and refugees. Sessions changed the requirements for seeking asylum to eliminate gang violence and domestic violence as reasons, exposing more migrants to deportation.

The campaign of lies has kindled fear and unease, and not only among those here illegally. It sends a message to the world about a country no longer recognizable as a beacon of hope.

Ripping children from their parents is not who we are as a nation.

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