Three big things wrong with news about kids being separated from families at US border

By June 28, 2018Current

TL;DR – Is there anything wrong with being selective with who you let in to your country?

A group of immigrants from Honduras and El Salvador who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally are stopped in Granjeno, Texas (via)

Recently, I’ve seen a lot of posts on my Facebook feed expressing outrage about what’s happening at the US-Mexico border. It’s understandable. When you see photos of children in cages, of a little girl crying, presumably because she was separated from her family, it’s difficult not to get angry. But there is more to the common narrative of outrage and anger that most people seem to be ignoring.

Here are three big things which we should think deeply about:

1. Many of the images were taken out of context

A lot of the outrage came about because of images like this:

Photo of child in cage, allegedly separated from family by USA Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (via)

The problem with this image is that the child in that photo wasn’t put into a cage by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

He wasn’t even anywhere near the border. He was put into a dog kennel by protesters.


And then there’s this picture of a crying girl:

Iconic crying girl. (via)

Time magazine used a composite photo that put the girl facing Trump on the cover page of their magazine:

Crying girl on Time magazine’s cover

The problem is that the girl wasn’t separated from her mother at all.

The photographer who took the picture revealed that the girl had always remained with the mother.

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The mother and child was part of a group of people trying to enter USA illegally. They were detained at the border. The mother had been breastfeeding her child after crossing the Rio Grande in a raft in the moments before they were detained. The officer told the mother to put her child down for the body search. When the girl’s feet touch the ground, she started crying. That’s when the iconic photograph was taken.

So, while the issue of children being separated from families are real, some of the photos were taken way out of context.

2. Illegal immigrants deliberately challenging the system

But yes. The issue is real. Children are indeed separated from their families. Surely that’s wrong.

But think about this. It’s not a secret that USA, under Trump, has put in place a “zero tolerance” policy regarding illegal immigrants. This means that all adults who are caught entering USA illegally will be prosecuted.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration’s Department of Homeland Security have announced that they’ll prosecute all adults who cross the US-Mexico border illegally — even if they’re seeking asylum. Families will be separated as a result of this policy, with parents put in criminal custody and children treated as “unaccompanied minors.” (via)

In the past, adults who enter USA illegally together with children are usually not prosecuted. The change in policy was to deter people from illegally entering USA again. Because while the punishment for entering USA illegally the first time is usually light, the punishment for illegal re-entry is much harsher.

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And when adults are waiting to be prosecuted, he or she is taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals. In no circumstance anywhere in the U.S. do the marshals care for the children of people they take into custody. The child is taken into the custody of Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which cares for them at temporary shelters. That’s when the children are being separated from their families.

Now the adults who enter USA illegally should know that they will be prosecuted. Yet, they took their chances. They even brought their children.

So, while it is heartbreaking to see children being separated from their families, shouldn’t the adults who chose to enter USA illegally together with the children bear some part of the blame?

3. Should countries have control of who enters their country?

Can we really blame these people trying to enter USA illegally? After all, they are fleeing from hardships from their own countries. They are seeking a better future for themselves and their children. Just like the mother of that little girl on the Time magazine cover. She was trying to get to USA so that she can get a better job. What’s wrong with that?


But does that mean that all countries should let anyone enter their country without any control?

A group of migrants and supporters at US-Mexico border 29 April 2018 (via)

Imagine if that happened in Singapore. A few boats of people, including families, trying to enter Singapore without visas. Their reason being that they are escaping hardship from their own countries. Should we let them in, let them stay? Or turn them away? As it is, a good portion of Singaporeans are already not happy with the number of foreign workers, “foreign talent”, and “new citizens” in Singapore.

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Surely that means we must support the principle of strong borders, where a country has the right to choose who gets to enter the country and for how long. And if someone overstays or enters illegally, surely the country should have the right to prosecute and punish the overstayers and those who enter the country illegally, right?

And if you disagree with those principles, then perhaps you ought to keep the doors of your home open all the time. Let anyone  enter your house. And let them stay as long as they want. Would you do that? Probably not.

So why are we faulting the USA for wanting to secure their border? Sure. The aren’t going about it in the best way possible. Sure. They could have better laws, and better processes.

But surely, we cannot be against the principle of having strong, secure borders where we can control who we allow into our country. Similarly, we cannot be against the principle of countries enforcing laws dictating how long non-citizens stay.

(Featured image via)


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Jake Koh

Author Jake Koh

Recovering sushi addict, I'm a man of mystery and power, whose power is exceeded only by his mystery.

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