Letter to the Editor: Court rulings on detention

To the Editor:

In a July 19 letter to the editor, Bruce Hightshoe writes disapprovingly of Indivisible MDI’s and the media’s response to president Trump’s immigration policy. Mr. Hightshoe asserts that “The Trump administration did not create the family separation policy.” This statement is false.

The policy of family separation resulted from the attorney general’s zero tolerance policy, issued this April. This policy directed U.S. attorneys along our southern border to prosecute anyone who crosses the border not at a port of entry. What this means is that anyone who enters the United States on the southern border unlawfully will be detained and prosecuted. Crossing the border unlawfully is a misdemeanor for first-time offenders, not a criminal offense.

Prosecutors, including U.S. attorneys and the attorney general, have considerable discretion in which legal cases to pursue. The Trump administration, through its attorney general, has chosen to exercise this discretion in a way that leads to family separation. It was a deliberate choice.

The June 19 post on the Washington Post’s non-partisan Fact Checker Blog states this clearly: “Immigrant families are being separated at the border not because of Democrats and not because some law forces this result, as Trump insists. They’re being separated because the Trump administration, under its zero-tolerance policy, is choosing to prosecute border-crossing adults for any offenses.”

At issue is a legal agreement from 1997 known as the Flores Agreement. Aspects of this agreement were challenged in a federal court in California in 2015; that court’s finding was partially overturned by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016. Mr. Hightshoe writes that it was the Flores Agreement that created the policy of family separation. This statement is also false.

The Washington Post Fact Checker article from June 14 states that neither the Flores Agreement nor the circuit court’s decision in 2016 require “the Trump administration to separate [parents] from their kids. Instead, separations are rising in large part because of a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy implemented by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In April, Sessions directed prosecutors to charge as many illegal entry offenses as possible. This policy is a choice. Sessions could rescind it as easily as he instituted it.”

The Washington Post is falsely derided by the president and some of his allies as being “fake news.” Over the years I have found the Post’s reporting to usually be careful and reliable. I’m a proud subscriber to the digital edition.

But no news organization is infallible. So I read the findings in the 9th Circuit Court’s decision about Flores. The decision is a dense 24 pages, but I see nothing in it that requires family separation. The Flores Agreement states that children cannot be detained by INS (now DHS) for more than 20 days. What is leading to family separation is the administration’s choice to implement a zero-tolerance policy.

Mr. Hightshoe notes that the issue could be addressed by legislation. On this point I agree. Readers may be interested to know that Senator Dianne Feinstein has introduced a bill, S.3036, the Keep Families Together Act. This is a simple law that, if enacted, would prohibit immigration officials from removing a child from her or his parents or legal guardians unless doing so is necessary for the child’s safety. Independent Maine Senator Angus King has signed on as a co-sponsor. Republican Maine Senator Susan Collins has not.

Senator Collins has spoken out against the president’s child separation policy. Speaking on “Face the Nation”, she commented that the policy is “traumatizing to the children who are innocent victims, and it is contrary to our values in this country.” I agree.

But she has declined to support the Keep Families Together Act. She claims that the act “would essentially prevent arrest within 100 miles of the border, even if the person has committed a serious crime or is suspected of terrorist activities.” I have read the act in its entirety (it’s a brisk 12 pages), and I do not understand how Senator Collins could conceivably come to this conclusion. Has she read the text of the bill? The act does exactly what it says: end child separation. No more, no less.

Our treatment of immigrants, including asylum seekers, is unnecessary and wrong. I will continue to join Indivisible MDI and others in Maine and across the country to speak out against the inhumane treatment of immigrants.

David Feldman

Mount Desert

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