By Harry Leibowitz, PhD
World of Children Co-Founder and Co-Chair
Sadly, today we live in a world where “facts” are irrelevant, where “fake news” has become the mantra of everyone in the political sphere who doesn’t like or disagrees with what is said about them and in which our entire set of standards and morals as a nation are upside down.
In this milieu, it is easy to see why and how children have now become weapons and how laws, which do not exist, are created out of thin air and used as a basis for justifying this action.
Let me be clear, I am a total believer in our nation of laws and I support the rule of law as properly constituted. Although I may disagree with any law, it is still the law until it is changed by proper authority. Further, while I may be at odds with some of the current rhetoric about immigrants, this essay is NOT about immigration policy. I leave that up to our lawmakers to deal with.
THIS IS ABOUT HUMANITY. As a spokesperson for children, I have often taken a risky position on behalf of the rights of children in other nations such as opposing the use of children as “human shields” in the Middle East, opposing the conscription of children into militias to be used as cannon fodder in Africa, and opposing marriage of pre-teenage girls to middle-aged men around the world.
Today, I must speak out on behalf of children right here in the USA. For those of you who are and have been supporters of our work on behalf of children, I want you to know the absolute real and immutable facts—not those being currently promulgated by our politicians and by some in the press.
So, here are the real facts:
Our laws allow people to appear at the border and apply for asylum. Under US Code #1158, “Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum in accordance with this section.” 1
As clearly stated above, the asylum seeker may enter the border and seek asylum without being considered a criminal, although the current policy would have you believe the contrary and the press has often allowed this as a valid argument.
POLICIES ON SEPARATION
The current policy of separating children from parents at the border is NOT a policy created by “the Democrats” (or for that matter by the Republicans). This policy was actually instituted in December 2017.2 In March of 2018, the Los Angeles Times did a full expose on this, but all of this was largely ignored.3 So this policy has been in effect under the current administration for seven months now and has only recently made it to the top of the headlines.
Although the administration and its spokespeople claim that the “law” requires separating children from parents, NO SUCH LAW EXISTS, and they cannot quote one. Thus, they have taken the position that these people (yes they are people) are not legally seeking asylum or considered an illegal alien subject to adjudication by our immigration courts.
The Immigration Court is an administrative court run by the U.S. Department of Justice. There are more than 200 immigration judges in 50 immigration courts nationwide.4 To be able to make the claim that the children should be separated, the administration has reclassified all immigrants as “criminals” subject to misdemeanor prosecution in criminal court. The administration then uses this reclassification as the basis for separating children because they cannot charge the children with misdemeanor offences as they can the parents.
CHILDREN AS WEAPONS
Now the most important fact of all. This is being done for only one reason: TO USE CHILDREN AS WEAPONS to try to convince the parents to end their quest for asylum and to make others aware that if they try to seek asylum in the US their children, too, will become WEAPONS. “The DHS rationale for separating families is that ratcheting up the punishment against these Central Americans will deter immigration.” 5
Children are not weapons! They are fragile, impressionable human beings. The impact of separation on them is unconscionable and there is not one pediatrician, not one child psychologist, not one religious leader who can or would disagree with this position. This has been allowed to happen because, from the outset, the administration has characterized immigrants as rapists, thugs, animals, and worse. This same policy has always been used by those with unbridled power to diminish another race or cohort … always leading to horrific results. Black slaves in the US were pictured as monkeys; Jews in Germany were pictured as swine; Tutsi’s in Rwanda were pictured as snakes. Each of these, and many more examples, have led to inhumanity, and, ultimately genocide.
No matter what we may think about immigration policy and where it should be and what our laws should be, we can all agree that this is a subject for broad debate and, ultimately, for our elected legislators to determine. However, the essence of American life, the thing that our men and women in uniform have fought and died for throughout history, is that we are first and foremost a humane people. A people who respect the dignity of every human being regardless of color, creed, or national origin, and we have a special place in our hearts for children.
Children are the most valuable resource in the world, regardless of where they come from, the color of their skin or the God their parents pray to. Just because these children may have dark skin, or may have been born in Guatemala, Mexico or Congo, it does not diminish the fact that they are children, and like it or not they are just like your children and mine.
If we are to protect our dignity as a society, we must first protect the dignity of our children. We can and we must end this separation policy, this policy of weaponizing children immediately if we are to retain our own dignity. History will look back on this heinous act as one of the greatest black marks on our humanity as a nation. We must stop it NOW, and just to be totally transparent, this is not to suggest that they and their parents get a free ride into the USA … it just means they should be housed together while their situation is adjudicated by our courts and under the laws of our country.
Safety and security don’t just happen. They are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”
— Nelson Mandela
 Excerpted from Cornell Law Review: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/8/1158