The Trump administration has been forced to partially back down on its “zero tolerance” immigration policy which resulted in the separation of children from their parents at the border. This reversal comes following mass outrage and protests.
Trump’s new executive order means that, while separations will end, families could be detained indefinitely. Additionally, with parents still likely to be charged with a criminal offence for crossing the border, they will be separated from their children when they are taken to court.
The US Navy is reportedly planning tent cities at military facilities for tens of thousands of newly detained immigrants.
Protests are continuing throughout the country. On 19 June, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was met, while at a Mexican restaurant, by Democratic Socialists of America members who chanted “Shame!” and played recordings of terrified children in a Texas detention centre.
There have been protests outside a number of Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices including in Portland Oregon, where protestors blocked a regional ICE office in what was labelled “Occupy ICE PDX”. A blockade grew to hundreds of people, with dozens camping overnight. Police reportedly attempted to persuade protestors to leave by stating that the ICE employees needed to “go home to their families”, apparently missing the irony of this statement.
On 30 June marches under the banner of “Families Belong Together” were held in 750 cities and in every US state, marking the largest demonstration in defence of immigrant rights in the Trump era. While the focus of many of the speakers was the need to “get out and vote” for Democrats in November’s mid-term election, more radical slogans such as “Abolish ICE”, recognising the need for a wholesale overhaul of the US immigration system, were also popular.
The exact number of children removed from their parents is uncertain. Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar says the administration doesn’t know how many children have been removed, only that it was “fewer than 3000”.
The U-turn by the Trump administration ought to serve as a reminder that even the most intransigent leaders are susceptible to popular mobilisation. While Trump’s family separations policy marks a new low, it is worth noting the complicity of the Democrats under Obama in creating the legal framework which allowed this policy to take place.
Australia too has been detaining asylum seeker children under the mandatory detention policy since 1992 and children remain imprisoned on Nauru. Australia remains a world leader in cruelty towards asylum seekers, under the justification of deterrence. In his now famous phone call with Malcolm Turnbull, Trump noted that Australia’s policies mean, “You are worse than I am”.
By Michael Thrower