The former US First Lady Laura Bush has condemned a controversial policy that splits up families who illegally enter the country. Writing in the Washington Post, she describes the separation of children from their parents as cruel, immoral and heart-breaking. Her comments follow growing controversy over President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. Earlier Melania Trump made a rare statement expressing concern. Mrs Trump “hates to see children separated from their families”, her spokeswoman said.
She repeated her husband’s call for “both sides” to work on immigration reform as a solution. However, fact-checkers point out that the policy was introduced by Mr Trump’s attorney general and does not require congressional action to be stopped. In a recent six-week period there were nearly 2,000 family separations following a crackdown on illegal border crossings. Adults who try to cross the border outside of official entry points many planning to seek asylum are placed in custody and face criminal prosecution for illegal entry.
As a result, hundreds of children and babies are now being housed in detention centers, including warehouses and converted supermarkets, and kept away from their parents. Critics have condemned the action as unprecedented. Laura Bush, wife of the former Republican President George W Bush, launched an outspoken attack on the policy. “This zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart,” she wrote in the Washington Post. “Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert.”
“These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War Two, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in US history,” she added. Earlier Mrs Trump said she “hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle [Republicans and Democrats in Congress] can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform”. “We need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart,” her statement added.
However, critics have pointed out that detaining children separately from their parents was a policy announced by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month. The significant change, analysts say, is the justice department’s decision to criminally prosecute parents for a first-time border crossing offense. The children, however, are not charged with a crime, which means they cannot be jailed together.The number of families trying to enter the US overland without documentation is on the rise. Mr Sessions has recognized this, commenting last month that current immigration trends “must end”.
In the first two weeks of the new “zero-tolerance” approach, 658 minors including many babies and toddlers were separated from the adults that traveled with them, according to US border officials. In many of the cases, the families have been reunited after the parent was released from detention. However, there are reports of people being kept apart for weeks and even months. But it is not clear if this new tougher policy will stop the migrants from traveling.
This is because many are fleeing violence and poverty in countries such as Honduras and El Salvador, and staying put is often fraught with dangers.