Nothing About the Child Internment Camps Was Fixed Today

Time to bring the blog out of quasi-retirement to elaborate on something that I’ve been trying to communicate on Twitter. But, you know, character limits.

Today, pretty much every news organization in the US reported that President Trump signed an executive order ending a policy of separating parents and children detained for immigration violations. This horrendous policy–which was really more of an enforcement strategy rather than law–has been a flashpoint of controversy in the last few days, and rightly so.

There have been a wide range of reactions to this executive order. Right wing Trump fans, inexplicably, think he’s ending a policy that somehow predates him (it doesn’t, though the legal justification does). Centrists and liberals see progress, proof that direct action and protest can make a difference. Leftists (and I mostly count myself in this group) say “well now families are just going to be imprisoned together, which is also bad.”

They’re all wrong.

I mean, ultimately, the centrists and leftists would have a point if what the media reported was true. But it’s not. Nothing has changed. There’s no evidence that ICE and DHS will proceed any differently than they did yesterday. Children will still be separated from their families. There will continue to be child internment camps. The order does nothing to actually stop this, and it’s ridiculous that this has gone unexamined.

The initial reports that Trump had signed an order rescinding the policy came out hours before the text of the order was available. This should have been an immediate red flag. A year and a half into the administration, there’s no excuse for taking their press releases at face value. But later today, Sean Hannity (lol) published the full text of the order.  I’m not going to link to Hannity but you can check his twitter if you want a source.

It’s a meaningless document that does next-to-nothing to change anything. There are two reasons why.

First, Section 3(a)  and (e) of the order ultimately pawns responsibility off on the courts. To summarize the situation simply, a pre-existing court ruling prevents the government from holding minor children in immigration detention for more then 20 days. The Obama administration got around this by either quickly deporting or simply releasing families after 20 days. The Trump administration continued to hold the adults in immigration detention, and then relinquished custody of the children to another agency as unaccompanied minors, as if they hadn’t been arrested with parents. They are now technically not held in immigration detention, but custody of the government.

Section 3(a) of the order says that families shall be kept together “to the extent permitted by law”, which is to say after 20 days they will be separated. Just like before. Because that’s what the law (technically) requires, though I’d have to contort myself into a pretzel to make that fit the spirit of the court decision. Section 3(e) implores the courts to overturn the original decision and permit the indefinite detention of children under ICE so that they can stay with their families in internment camps which, uh, that’s not exactly a solution either


The order also expedites the processing of immigration cases involving families, so a technical argument could be made that a few families could (assuming an uncharacteristic efficiency from the Federal Government) be deported together after less than 20 days. Look, that’s not good. But it sounds like maybe the most incremental of progress. It sounds slightly better than “all illegal alien kids go to concentration camps” which was the status quo yesterday.

That’s also a lie.

You see, “alien child”, the kid who can theoretically no longer be removed from their parent, is defined in the executive order. And it is defined as such:

(b)  “Alien child” means any person not a citizen or national of the United States who

(i)    has not been admitted into, or is not authorized to enter or remain in, the United States;

(ii)   is under the age of 18; and

(iii)  has a legal parent-child relationship to an alien who entered the United States with the alien child at or between designated ports of entry and who was detained.

The important part here is “has a legal parent-child relationship to an alien who entered the United States with the alien child “.

How many immigrants can prove that their children are legitimate? How many mothers crossing the border with their daughters have the birth certificate on them?

Even before today, the talking point from the Right was that there was no way to prove that children crossing the border were accompanied by their actual parents. Fears of child trafficking were invoked. It was a constant drumbeat on Fox News. You think that ICE, DHS, HHS, are all just going to immediately believe a claimed parent-child relationship? You think they aren’t going to ask for proof? And you think that when that proof fails to materialize, they will act in the favor of the detainees rather than their own prejudices?

No. That’s ridiculous. We know that’s ridiculous because these are the same people who are listening to children cry and joking that it’s an orchestra in need of a conductor. These are the same people giving teenage boys anti-psychotic drugs to keep them docile. These are the same people who have yet to allow a camera into facilities housing captive girls or toddlers.

They won’t give parents benefit of the doubt. They’ll take the children away and send them into HHS custody, just like they have. Because there will be no proof these children meet the qualifications set out in the executive order.

Nothing is going to change. Nothing happened today. The executive order was meaningless. At worst, it was an outright lie. At best, it was so poorly constructed as to mean nothing.

Don’t believe anything the media said today. Nothing changed. Children will still be ripped from their parents at the border; they will still be kept in the same camps. The only difference between tomorrow and yesterday is that, it seems, the White House thinks we’ll stop paying attention.