White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been having a difficult time with the press recently. Immigration has been a hot-button issue and journalists and reporters alike have been going to the communications department in the White House looking for answers regarding what is happening. Recently, a press briefing devolved into a conversation and questions in reference to former First Lady Laura Bush’s article she wrote for The Washington Post which she wrote on immigration. However, Sanders had a response that some might not like.
“The complicated legal entanglements regarding illegal immigrants who get caught trying to bring their children to the United States have been reduced, more or less, to two separate sets of opinions: either separating children from their mothers while their cases are adjudicated is a human rights violation like never before or we should enforce the law until the problems with it are fixed by Congress.
Part of the great irony with the first argument is that many of the luminaries speaking out against enforcing what they see as unjust laws are associated with the individuals who passed the laws in the first place. One of these individuals is Laura Bush, who penned a much-ballyhooed op-ed in The Washington Post in which she decried the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
“On Sunday, a day we as a nation set aside to honor fathers and the bonds of family, I was among the millions of Americans who watched images of children who have been torn from their parents,” Bush wrote in the piece published Sunday night. “In the six weeks between April 19 and May 31, the Department of Homeland Security has sent nearly 2,000 children to mass detention centers or foster care. More than 100 of these children are younger than 4 years old. The reason for these separations is a zero-tolerance policy for their parents, who are accused of illegally crossing our borders. “I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”
If it breaks her heart, perhaps she should have been blaming her husband. Late in his second term, former President George W. Bush signed a law that was likely well-intentioned but has added to the problems faced by the Trump administration in enforcing their “zero tolerance” policy without separating parents and children. On Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders noted this during her news briefing. “Frankly, this law was actually signed into effect in 2008 under (Laura Bush’s) husband’s leadership, not under this administration,” Sanders said, according to The Hill. “We’re not the ones responsible for creating this problem. We’ve inherited it,” she added. “But we’re actually the first administration stepping up and trying to fix it.”
The law she was referring to, assumedly, was the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, which requires formal deportation hearings for child immigrants who aren’t from Mexico or Canada and don’t have family in the United States. The intention was that it would stop child sex trafficking, but one of the unintended problems has come now that family units from Central American countries besides Mexico are making up the bulk of new illegal immigrants. In most cases, as The New York Times noted in one story about a Guatemalan woman who was repatriated to her country of origin without her child, most first-time illegal immigrants who don’t seek asylum plead out their case in an expedited manner and are sentenced to time served, then deported.
However, due to federal law, children can’t go through expedited hearings, instead of requiring formal deportation hearings. Thus, while the parent might be repatriated to their home country, the child remains back until their case works their way through clogged courts. This is just one of a maze of laws and court rulings, some of which are meant to do good but all of which have made it more difficult to actually enforce the law and secure our border. There are obviously ways to fix this without jeopardizing border security and ensuring that parents aren’t separated from their children for elongated periods of time. Still, those who bear some responsibility for the maze shouldn’t pretend that this is all on Trump. This is the result of an agglomeration of bad legislation and an unwillingness to touch illegal immigration. Instead of lamenting it in high-profile op-eds, perhaps they ought to be writing about how to fix it beyond just blaming the president and demanding he stop enforcing the law.”
Bush is not the only First Lady to come out against the zero tolerance immigration policy. All of the living former first ladies have spoken out against the policy regarding illegal border crossing that has resulted in family separation. Even former First Lady Rosalynn Carter made a statement, something she rarely ever does. She called the policy disgraceful and shameful and called upon her experience working in Cambodia and Thailand as well as her work with the Carter Center.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama shared Bush’s article on social media. Additionally, former First Lady Hillary Clinton condemned the policy at a Women’s Forum of New York awards lunch. She alleged that the separation policy is not mandated by law. The current first lady, First Lady Melania Trump has also encouraged Congressional Democrats and Republicans to work together to come to a conclusion to this immigration issue. She released a statement where she indicated she hated this policy and believes bipartisan lawmakers need to work together to achieve a successful and efficient solution.
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