By Nick Gier
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has quoted the Bible in support of his No Tolerance and Family Separation policies, but this passage undermines his case entirely: “When a stranger sojourns in your land, you shall do him no wrong. The stranger shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself” (Leviticus 19:33-34).
The Declaration of Independence promises inalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I would remind Mr. Sessions that these are universal rights, and they apply to those who live here as well as those just coming to our shores.
I would also invite Sessions to consider the Fifth and 14th Amendments to our Constitution, which state that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The word “person” includes non-citizens as well as citizens.
Finally, I would point the attorney general to the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14: “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” The U.S. is a signatory to the 1951 U.N. Convention on Refugees, and its provisions were incorporated into U.S. law in the Refugee Act of 1980.
I submit that the Trump administration is violating the Constitution, U.S. and international law in its attempts to deny immigrants their right to asylum and their right to due process. Seeking asylum is not a crime and those attempting it announce their fully legal intentions at the border.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg recently ruled that the Trump administration must “provide baseline procedures to those entering our country — individuals who have often fled violence and persecution to seek safety on our shores.” The judge ordered a case-by-case review of whether each asylum seeker should be released on humanitarian parole.
The Trump administration is claiming that Obama also separated families, but this was done only where there was evidence that the adults were not the parents of the children, or further evidence that the children were being trafficked or being used in running drugs.
During the Obama years, families not in this category were kept together in residential institutions or released into the community under the supervision of case managers. Under Obama’s Family Case Management Program, immigrant families made their court dates 99 percent of the time.
This program was abolished by the Trump administration. Obama’s humane program cost $36 per day per family, ten times less than the cost of holding families in criminal detention, which is what Trump wants to do.
The problem with this solution is that there is a 20-day limit for children held in jail, and the Trump administration just failed to get a waiver from this law. Los Angeles U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee found the government’s argument “dubious” and “unconvincing.”
The most humane option is for the Justice Department to drop criminal charges of illegal entry (or legal entry in the case of asylum seekers) and release the parents and their children. They then would stay together for legal proceedings in civil court, where they should have been in the first place.
Dana M. Sabraw, the San Diego judge who has ruled that government must reunify families by July 26 (July 10 for those under 5), described its actions as “brutal, offensive, and fails to comport with traditional notions of fair play and decency.” As of Monday, Secretary Azar announced that he can only reunite 54 of the 104 children in the under-5 category.
A recent political cartoon depicted Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock crying out “We are just looking for freedom and safety,” but two Native Americans have grabbed their children, saying: “What kind of monsters would endanger their kids by sailing across an entire ocean!”
But of course this is not what happened. The Wampanoag Indians welcomed the Pilgrims with open arms and helped them plant their first crops. They were much better Christians than Jeff Sessions will ever be. In accord with scripture, the Wampanoag treated the Pilgrims as “native” among them and they did them “no wrong.”
The dire effects of the Trump administration’s Zero Tolerance program will go down in history, and they are as infamous and egregious as the separation of Indian, Irish and black children from their parents a century ago.
A start at making amends for this tragedy has been made by 600 members of the United Methodist Church, where Jeff Sessions is a Sunday School teacher: They are charging him with immorality and child abuse under church rules.
Nick Gier of Moscow taught religion and philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years. Read all his columns on refugees at www.nickgier.com/refugees.pdf. He can be contacted at [email protected]