Outrage as US border policy puts kids in ‘cages’

Separation anxiety: A two-year-old Honduran girl cries as her mother is detained. © Getty

Should there be “zero tolerance” towards illegal immigration? The UN has condemned America’s policy of separating children from parents. But Trump says the US “will not be a migrant camp”.

A photo of a two-year-old girl wearing bright pink, crying as her mother is searched. A video of children held in cages (or, as some call them, “chain-link partitions”.) A recording of kids crying and calling out for their “papa”.

Over the last six weeks in America, 2,000 children have been separated from their parents at the Mexican border after entering the country illegally. Now, the heart-wrenching sounds and images of those children have plunged the country into a furious row about immigration.

Members of both major political parties have condemned the separation of families. On Monday, the UN’s human rights chief called the practice “unconscionable”.

America’s first ladies have also weighed in. Melania Trump issued a rare statement saying she “hates to see children separated from their families” and calling on the US to be a “country that governs with heart.” Laura Bush called the policy “cruel” and compared it to Japanese internment camps.

But President Donald Trump has doubled down, falsely blaming Democrats and insisting that America will “not be a migrant camp”.

How did we get here?

There is no US law that requires border patrol officials to split up migrant families. Instead, Trump’s team made a “simple decision” to enforce a “zero tolerance policy for illegal entry”, explained White House aide Stephen Miller. Instead of waiting for an asylum claim to be processed, everyone who crosses into America illegally is now arrested and charged.

However, minors cannot be detained and charged for the same crime. During the Obama era, that meant families were released until their asylum hearings. Now, thanks to the new zero tolerance policy, children are taken away and treated as unaccompanied minors.

This week, Congress will vote on changes to immigration laws. Democrats have introduced a bill to stop family separations, while Republicans want to beef up border security, and have suggested temporary family detention centres.

Is “zero tolerance” fair?

Letter of the law

It’s simple, say Trump’s defenders. Immigrants are breaking the law by crossing into America illegally. That law must be followed — and while splitting up families is regrettable, it is better than arresting children. Getting tough on illegal entry also sends a clear message to potential immigrants: making the dangerous journey is simply not worth it.

The law is cruel and immoral, argue others. No other country feels the need to do this, because it is so clearly wrong; the psychological damage to children could last a lifetime. Many of these families are fleeing war and violence in their home countries. They should be treated with the dignity and respect that all humans deserve.

You Decide

  1. Will the zero tolerance policy help to reduce illegal immigration to America?
  2. Is following the law always the right thing to do? And if not, how do you know when the line is crossed?


  1. In groups, imagine you have founded your own country and you are its citizens. Discuss how you would decide who gets to move to your country and draw up a list of laws. Then explain your decisions to the rest of the class.
  2. Research the history of America’s immigration laws, and then plan an essay answering the question: Are they fit for the 21st century?

Some People Say...

“Law applied to its extreme is the greatest injustice.”


What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
There are legal ports of entry for people to claim asylum across the US-Mexico border; “improper entry” to the US is illegal. The other relevant law in this case is the “Flores Settlement Agreement”, introduced in 1997. This states that children detained by immigration services should be released to family members or child welfare programs “without unnecessary delay”. Therefore, under the new zero tolerance policy where parents are jailed immediately, their children are taken away.
What do we not know?
Whether the US will continue with its zero tolerance policy. On Twitter, Trump called on congress to “CHANGE THE LAWS” surrounding immigration. Votes on potential new bills will likely take place tomorrow — however, we do not know which laws will be passed, if any.

Word Watch

The Associated Press (AP) reported that there were up to 20 children in one “cage” at a former warehouse in Texas. A row has since broken out over the terminology, after Breitbart criticised AP for describing the chain-link partitions as “cages” in its report.
Spanish for “dad”.
2,000 children
According to the Department of Homeland Security. Before this, 700 children were separated between October and April. The Department of Health and Human Services predicts that it could be holding 30,000 children by the end of summer if the policy continues.
Japanese internment camps
During the Second World War, over 100,000 Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps, something that — as Bush put it — is “now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in US history”.
Asylum claim
In the US it is still legal for people to claim asylum or refugee status if they have been arrested while entering the country.
War and violence
Many of the migrants are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where gangs and violence are common.

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