BYH Zoning Commission. Take your chairs and sit in the field by Bostic Sugg in morning or afternoon and tell the...

How to enforce borders without separating kids


Ramesh Ponnuru


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

President Donald Trump and his top aides have given America two main stories about the separation of families at our southern border: It's an unfortunate byproduct of laws and court decisions that tie the administration's hand, and it's a necessary deterrent to illegal immigration. These are conflicting accounts. If the administration believes the first one, it should welcome legislation to keep families together. If the second reflects its thinking, it should reject such legislation for undermining a valuable tool against illegal immigration.

Officials have not gone out of their way to clarify the issues.

Take, for example, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen's recent comment: "We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period." Based on previous remarks she has made about the policy, what she appears to mean is that the administration is not separating families on purpose but doing it because it's what happens when you prosecute parents for crossing our borders illegally.

It's a defense of the administration that ignores three salient points. First, the policy of prosecuting all illegal border crossers as criminals — what the administration is calling "zero tolerance" — was a choice of this administration. Previous administrations considered it and rejected it. Second, it was chosen even though one of its predictable effects was to take many more children from their parents. That's a major reason it was previously rejected.

Third, at least some high-ranking officials favor the separation of families as a way to discourage illegal immigration. The White House chief of staff, John Kelly, told CNN in March 2017 that he was considering separating families as a deterrent. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has done his part to amplify the deterrent message: "If you don't want your child separated, then don't bring them across the border illegally."

Deterrence is a valid purpose of the law, but it has moral limits. Sessions would not, I trust, endorse executing the children of illegal immigrants to deter others from crossing. He would see the perversity of a statement like "If you don't want your child executed, don't bring him across the border illegally." The deterrent he is defending, while less severe than that, also crosses the moral line. It places much of its burden on children. To the extent it works as a deterrent, it does so precisely by harming them. That's why even in the Trump administration, very few people are willing to defend it on these grounds.

Nielsen wants Congress to amend the law to allow illegal border crossing to be prosecuted as a crime while keeping families together - which, presumably, would mean letting families be detained together for as long as it takes to see their cases through, and providing funding both to build facilities in which they can be humanely detained and to speed up their cases. Her implicit view is that zero tolerance without family separation is better than zero tolerance with family separation, but zero tolerance with family separation is better than what we had in place before this year.

Her view is defensible only if a small and uncertain reduction in illegal immigration is worth tearing apart families. But it too clashes with the sound moral instincts of most Americans. Maybe that's why she doesn't state it openly.

An alternative policy would have three parts. The administration would stop enforcing its zero tolerance policy on adults traveling with children until it got changes in the law that enabled the humane detention of families. It would advance those changes in the law as a stand-alone measure rather than using legislators' desire to keep children with their parents as leverage to win other immigration-related policy changes. And it would, separately, push for legislative changes that enabled other means of enforcing the immigration laws, such as punishing businesses whose new hires are illegal immigrants.

Really, though, these three steps boil down to one: Just don't split up families when it's not absolutely necessary. Among the advantages of this simple alternative is that the administration would find it easier to keep track of its storyline.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist, a senior editor at National Review, visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and contributor to CBS News.


Humans of Greenville


Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

Op Ed

February 18, 2019

I was born in Charlotte. But I grew up in rural Mecklenburg County. There used to be such a place — and, indeed, quite a few such places still exist in our increasingly urbanized state.

My family lived on 40 acres, mostly forest with a freight-rail track running through it. When the train…

john hood.jpg

February 18, 2019


It snowed on Amy Klobuchar as she announced her run for president. And while that might be a bad omen for some candidates, the icy weather accurately symbolizes her appeal.

The Minnesota Democrat, just elected to a third Senate term, portrays herself as a common-sense pragmatist from a blue-…

Steve and Cokie Roberts

February 17, 2019

If the most important factor determining the welfare of workers is the growth rate of the economy, that has policy implications that free-market conservatives, among others, will welcome.

Real, long-term economic growth is about investment, about both the amount invested and how skillfully it is…

john hood.jpg

February 17, 2019

Would you like to know why U.S. sanctions against companies owned by Russian billionaire and businessman Oleg Deripaska are being lifted?

You are the reason.

Me too.

And so is everybody else who lives and votes in North Carolina.

Last April, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions against…


February 16, 2019

With confidence in government at record lows, where have all our leaders gone? Where is the James Madison of today, or the Thomas Jefferson, or even Everett Dirksen? He was the Republican leader who partnered with President Johnson to pass civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

These people were…


February 15, 2019

The proposed DMV move brings to mind one of the old Three Stooges comedies, the one where one of the zany trio says, “I’ve cut this board three times and it’s still too short.” Our state continues to take cuts at property decisions and keeps coming up short.

State political…

Tom Campbell

February 15, 2019

On Bleecker Street in Manhattan, you can find both a Planned Parenthood clinic and a boutique for pregnant women.

According to Vogue, the store, Hatch, "is arguably the first of its kind, in that it was designed specifically for pregnant shoppers: Changing rooms have a size chart to help you figure…


February 15, 2019

The decision by Virginia's top three elected officials to hunker down and cling to their jobs is bad for both the state and the Democratic Party. If they won't go, the only thing to do is investigate them all.

Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring have all…

Eugene Robinson

February 14, 2019

Of all the headlines about the scandals concerning the alleged past sins of one after another high official in Virginia, one struck me most poignantly. It was this, from the front page of The Washington Times:

"Democrats to vet candidates closely for secrets in past."

Maybe I have spent too much…

February 13, 2019

As our new legislative session fully uncoils, it's good to recall that just a few weeks ago workers in 20 states saw an increase in the minimum wage. The federal minimum, $7.25, was last raised in 2009. Since then, 29 states and dozens of cities and counties have chosen to exceed the federal floor.…

Gene Nichol
317 stories in Op Ed. Viewing 1 through 10.
«First Page   «Previous Page        
Page 1 of 32
        Next Page»   Last Page»