Thousands of children are being forcibly removed from their parents by our government. There is no other way to say it, this is not who we are and it must end now.
Policymakers in Washington are accustomed to hearing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce opine about the economics of particular policies. But public policy is often also a reflection of a nation’s values. That is certainly the case when it comes to immigration policy and in particular with respect to three immigration matters that require the urgent attention of our elected officials: ending the separation of minor children from their parents, permanent protection for Dreamers, and permanent relief for long-term beneficiaries of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program.
It is not just that America is a nation of immigrants – it is that since our founding we have embraced certain core values. One of those values is that children should not be punished for the crimes of their parents. Yet, today, government policy is running in direct contradiction to that value.
The recent policy change requiring the immediate detention and misdemeanor prosecution of anyone crossing the border illegally – so-called zero tolerance – has already resulted in the forcible separation of nearly 2,000 children from their parents. Facilities to house these children are so overcrowded that the administration has built a “tent city” to house additional minors.
Parents are being told if they plead guilty and drop any claim of asylum they can be reunited more quickly with their children. The administration adopted this policy as a way of deterring illegal entry into the U.S. Some administration officials reportedly view the policy of separating children from their parents as leverage to gain other immigration policy changes from Congress.
Let that sink in for a second: our government is forcibly separating children – including toddlers – from their parents and sending them to detention facilities as a means of sending a message and influencing Congress.
Surely a nation as big, generous, and compassionate as the United States can find a way to prevent separating children from their parents at the border. If we can’t agree on that, then we can’t agree on anything.
Now let me be clear, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t secure our border and enforce our immigration laws. Individuals entering the United States illegally should be returned to their home country, but that does not require separating children from parents.
Sadly, current government policy isn’t much better when it comes to Dreamers.
Our government is threatening to deport from the only nation that many of them know, over one million young people brought here through no fault of their own as young children. These Dreamers have grown up here. They went to school with our children, they played on the same sports teams, and they graduated and found jobs. Many have served in our military. Some have started their own businesses, creating jobs for others. They are living the American dream. They have done nothing wrong. Yet, without Congressional action, they will be deported, punished for the actions of those who brought them here. To allow such a thing to happen would be a true injustice.
Another core American value is that government should not reach back decades to punish someone for relatively minor violations of the law. That is why when the very first Congress passed our nation’s first criminal laws they also included a statute of limitations.
Approximately 300,000 individuals from countries previously impacted by natural disasters were repeatedly granted by administrations of both parties temporary protected status (TPS). TPS allows these individuals to legally live and work within the United States. Some TPS beneficiaries have legally lived and worked here for nearly two decades. One can argue that perhaps prior administrations should have been stricter in granting and renewing TPS status, but after nearly two decades, it is simply wrong to tell these individuals that they must leave the country where they have legally built their lives. Congress should act now to provide permanent legal status to long-term TPS beneficiaries.
The Chamber could provide you with plenty of statistics and detailed analysis as to why we need to keep Dreamers and TPS beneficiaries living and working here to help our economy grow. There is, however, something more fundamental at stake: whether our nation’s policies will reflect our values or run in direct contradiction to them.
At the U.S. Chamber, we wake up every day with a goal of defending and promoting the free enterprise system. Today, we ask our elected officials to defend the core values that make the free enterprise system and the whole American experiment possible. The time for action is now.