Saturday 17 August 2019

What you need to know about controversial US immigration policy - and the audio everyone is talking about

Why are families being separated and children 'being kept in cages'?

A boy holds up a sign at a Poor People's Campaign rally in Washington. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A boy holds up a sign at a Poor People's Campaign rally in Washington. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) Newsdesk Newsdesk

Trump's latest policy of separating children from parents seeking asylum in US has sparked outrage. Here we answer six questions you may have about the controversy.

What is current US immigration policy?

The administration recently implemented a “zero-tolerance” policy that includes separating children from their parents as they try to enter the United States seeking asylum at the US border. The policy means immigrants apprehended entering the United States illegally are criminally charged under the criminal entry statute.

Prior procedure had limited prosecution for many family entrants, in part because regulations prohibit detaining children with their parents since the children are not charged with a crime and the parents are.

Where are the families being kept?

Parents who are referred by border agents for prosecutions are held in federal jail, while their children are sent to separate detention facilities, some in remote locations. Video footage released by the government showed migrant children held in what appeared to be wire cages, sitting on concrete floors.

What does audio from one of the detention centres reveal?

Children can be heard wailing in an audio obtained by ProPublica from inside a US Customs and Border Protection facility.

What does the White House say?

The White House defends the policy, saying it is only strictly enforcing the law. Trump administration officials say the zero-tolerance policy, which was not practised by the two previous presidents, is needed to secure the border and deter illegal immigration.

But Democrats and some Republicans have admonished the administration for separating nearly 2,000 children from their parents between mid-April and the end of May.

Who else has criticised the policy?

The moves has been widely decried by medical professionals, politicians, the United Nations, and many US religious leaders.

Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the policies "punish children for their parents' actions", calling on the United States "to immediately end the practice of forcible separation of these children."

Melania Trump and former first lady Laura Bush joined the chorus of criticism, with a spokeswoman for Melania saying she "hates to see children separated from their families" and hopes politicians from both parties can agree on immigration reform.

Mrs Bush said the situation "breaks my heart" and likened it to the Japanese-American internment camps of World War II, which she described as "one of the most shameful episodes in US history".

US Immigration2.jpg
A girl cries as she talks about being separated from her father during an immigration family separation protest (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

What's next?

Trump has sought to use the widespread outrage over the family separations to push through other immigration priorities that have stalled in Congress, such as funding for his long-promised wall along the Mexican border.

The Republican-controlled US House of Representatives will vote later this week on two pieces of immigration-related legislation, both drafted without input from Democrats.

One would limit, but not entirely prohibit, family separations, fund Trump's wall and give legal protections to young immigrants, known as "Dreamers," who were brought to the country illegally as children. Details were still in flux.

The bill faces strong headwinds because it is opposed by Democrats, who object to another provision that would cut legal immigration levels, and conservative Republicans who are backing a rival bill that takes a harder line on immigration.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who ran unsuccessfully against Trump in 2016 for their party's presidential nomination, said he would introduce legislation this week to halt family separations.

He said his bill would build temporary shelters where immigrant families could stay together in cases where there was no threat to the children's safety, double the number of federal immigration judges and speed handling of asylum applications.


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