Trump Finally Stopped Ripping Families Apart. Here’s the One Reason That’s a Bad Thing.

June 26, 2018 10:04 am
by David Jakeman

For the first time in a long time, immigration attorneys and activists saw the subject of immigration spring into the public consciousness this week. The issue of Trump’s family separations at the U.S. border topped the headlines for most news outlets, protests ignited around the country, and members of Congress attempted to visit detention centers and prisons holding family members that had been separated at the border.

The outrage even crossed political boundaries. For once, Congress seemed to be actually making progress on a bill that would provide some protections for DACA immigrants as well as end the horrific family separations. To borrow a phrase from our current president, that’s huge. Since the 2016 election, both sides of the immigration debate have dug in their heels, and Congress has floundered on immigration policy. The family separations was something that most people could agree was awful and needed to stop. But now that Trump has signed an executive order ending the horror, there is a danger that the subject of immigration reform will again recede into the background.

Getting People to Care About Immigration

As most immigration attorneys have experienced, it’s not easy to get the general population to care about immigration if they are not somehow directly connected to the issue. Many people are grossly uninformed–or even worse, misinformed–about the subject. Even the family separation issue took a long time to enter the wider public consciousness and not before facing many twists and turns.

When Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy and separations of families began, it took a while for the brutal reality to take hold. The news was first undercut by false reports that the Trump administration had lost thousands of migrant children and didn’t know where they were. The claim was demonstrably false, a public relations boon that the Trump administration could use to distract from to the real problem of separating families.

When the claim of lost children was disproved, the opposition’s momentum stumbled. Momentum again began to build, only to be cut short by comedienne Samantha Bee’s offensive language. Bee was criticizing Ivanka Trump for not doing anything to stop her father’s actions, but because she stooped to obscenities, the news cycle was taken up for a few days focusing on Bee’s language. Bee acknowledged that her language only hurt the children’s cause, saying, “I would do anything to help those kids. I hate that this distracted from them.”

Congressional Movement on Immigration

Members of Congress started visiting detention centers and jails to highlight the plight of the separated families, and finally, the media found its focus. Pressure started to build, and moderate and centrist Republicans realized that their jobs could be at stake if they didn’t move on some kind of immigration reform. They drafted a bill to put an end to the Trump administration’s claims that the family separations were required by law. While not everything is known about the Republican draft bill, it appears that it would have provided some protection for DACA recipients and ended family separations. And, at least there was movement.

Trump’s draconian policy was actually the best chance to get moderate Republicans to take the plunge on immigration reform. We might not get such a chance again. While the separation of children from their parents was deeply unpopular, many Republicans still supported it, making it difficult for moderate Republicans worried about more conservative primary challengers trying to outflank them on immigration.

The despicable policy was actually the best cover for moderate Republicans in a very long time. If we couldn’t get movement on immigration reform this time, when will we get it? We seem to be headed back to the quagmire of immigration politics. We deserve better than this. We need real reform.

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