After public outcry forced him to end family separation, Trump’s new executive order calls for reviving a family incarceration policy that a court blocked in 2015. We speak to The Nation’s Juliane Hing and Amnesty International’s Denise Bell
AARON MATE: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate.
The separation of young immigrant and asylum-seeking children from their parents prompted protests across the U.S. And when President Trump responded with an executive order to end family separation, he declared that the problem has been solved.
DONALD TRUMP: We’re going to have strong, very strong borders, but we’re going to keep the families together. I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated. There’s a problem that’s gone on for many years, as you know, through many administrations. And we’re working very hard on immigration. It’s been left out in the cold. People haven’t dealt with it. And we are dealing with it. So we’re keeping families together, and this will solve that problem. At the same time, we are keeping a very powerful border, and it continues to be a zero tolerance. We have zero tolerance for people that enter our country illegally.
AARON MATE: But far from solving the problem, President Trump is only changing it from a family separation crisis back to a family incarceration crisis. Under his so-called zero tolerance policy, Trump wants to return to the Obama administration’s practice of detaining families for weeks and months. A court stopped that practice in 2015, so in trying to revive it Trump is setting up a brand new legal battle. Joining me are two guests. Juliane Hing is immigration correspondent for The Nation magazine, and Denise Bell is a researcher for refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International. Welcome to you both. Denise, I’ll start with you. What is President Trump trying to do now in reviving the Obama administration policy that a court nullified?
DENISE BELL: First of all, thank you for having me on. It’s a really timely conversation and amnesty has been documenting family detention and campaigning on it for a number of years. Right now what we’re seeing is a, yes, a resurgence in enforcement of the Obama policy of family detention. What the president is attempting to do is foist on us a false solution to a political crisis that he started, which has to do with a zero tolerance policy for criminally prosecuting people who come to this country and ask for asylum, which is lawful under U.S. law and international law. The solution is not to detain families, and it’s not to lock them up. It’s to give them fair and humane access to asylum.
So what he’s trying to do is basically undermine that very asylum system. And he’s going after it, as we’ll talk about, through Flores, the decision that controls the length of time a family can be detained.
AARON MATE: Right. So Flores, that decision meant that the government can only hold people for up to 20 days until they have to be released. And so Trump is going to try to challenge that in court. So Juliane Hing, if you could pick it up here, what does that mean? And also, meanwhile, I understand he’ll be holding people even on military bases.
JULIANE HING: That’s right. The thing I would clarify about Flores is, you know, people have been throwing around this 20-day figure a lot. But if you really take a minute to read this, the agreement, what it calls for is that children should be held for at the least amount of time possible and should be reunited with, you know, in descending order, starting with a parent or immediate family member, a guardian, as soon as possible. And so 20 days was actually cited as somewhere on the outer range of what should be acceptable. And for children who are held, while they’re held they should be held in the least restrictive settings. So not in cages. They should have access to healthcare, education, have meals, beds. You know, the images and reports that have trickled out from the centers where children are being held show that this is not what, this is not how children are being treated at all.
And so what Donald Trump announced in this executive order, which supposedly reversed this policy of family separation, was his intention to dismantle this landmark agreement which has formed the bedrock of protecting child, of upholding child welfare standards for children who are, who are, either whose parents are going through the immigration system or who themselves are going through the immigration system. And so, the day after the executive order was signed, the Department of Justice petitioned a court, a judge named Dolly Gee in California, to ask her to revisit the standards of Flores.
And, and that is troubling in so many ways. Because this is, these are, very, very baseline standards, and the Trump administration would like more latitude so that the standards for how children must be treated when they’re held are lower, and also so that they have the ability to hold children and families here longer.
And what we’re seeing, as you pointed out, is that the other part of the executive order calls for any federal agency, including the Department of Defense, including which, you know, means military bases or the Bureau of Prisons, which means the federal prison system, to make facilities available. Which means that the Trump administration, for all the press they receive this week about supposedly reversing this decision, actually intends to-. In the New York Times report, I believe as the New York Times this week, reported that they intend to, they would like military bases to be able to hold up to 20000 people. And so it’s very clear that the Trump administration has actually very clear intentions to continue this practice.
AARON MATE: So, Denise Bell, based on your research work at Amnesty International, what can you tell us about the conditions at the different jails and facilities that have been used to detain immigrants? Just this week there was a lawsuit alleging that a private facility in Virginia injected children with with powerful antipsychotic medication.
DENISE BELL: I saw that report. We’ve not investigated it, but I was very troubled by that report. What, what Amnesty and other organizations have documented and have campaigned around is how family detention is never humane. It’s never in the best interest of a child. The U.N. is very clear about it, international human rights law is very clear about it. A child should never be detained. And even when under Flores, for example, or other child welfare standards you try to make it OK, it is not. Members of Congress, senators, medical professionals, American Academy of Pediatrics, social workers have all documented the physical, emotional, and mental harm that is caused by this. The long-lasting trauma. And it’s also completely unnecessary.
Amnesty, I would like to say, has also documented how forced, this policy of forcible family separation rises to the level of torture. It’s the infliction, intentional infliction, of emotional distress for coercive purposes. And so we see both sides of the coin, that they are trying to inflict harm and punish asylum-seeking families.
AARON MATE: All right. We will pause there and come back in Part 2. My guests are Juliane Hing, immigration correspondent for The Nation magazine, and Denise Bell, researcher for refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International.