Vigliotti: Families, the border and the state of immigration

Once again, partisan politics has worsened a situation that already needed correction. The separation of children from families, which owes itself to decisions under previous administrations, invited the usual host of comparisons of the president and Republicans to Nazis.

History is repeating itself, many on the left have therein argued over the past week, and the president should take immediate action to end his bad policy. As with most situations, there is much more to the truth and much more that needs to be examined.


Historical context does matter, but history is not repeating itself. Immigrant parents and children are not being marched off to forced labor or extermination camps such as they would have been in Germany in the late 1930s and 1940s. Likewise, they are not being condemned to multiyear internment camps simply for the sake of their race, as they were under Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration in 1940s-America.

Child separation did not originate with the Trump administration, either; and it was not crafted in cruelty. In part, it originated in the moral desire to help shut down human trafficking and to protect children being smuggled across the border with adults other than parents, and to keep children away from dangerous criminals.

For families who were genuinely seeking asylum, their children were not being separated. Those who are separated are not being kept indefinitely (they are placed with relatives or in shelters under the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement). But still the system is not perfect.

President Donald Trump, to his credit, has signed an executive order that stops family separation. Republicans in the House and the Senate have announced their intent to advance legislation that also handles the subject (such as potentially using DNA testing to prove familial relations). The president has said he is favorable to, and supportive of such legislation. Senate Democrats, who demanded immediate action, now strangely say they may oppose it.

Although the president has signed an executive order stopping separations, this is not a long-term or all-encompassing solution. It is, in effect, a stop-gap measure which provides time for legislative action. Executive orders, after all, can effortlessly change with the executive. That Republicans in both the House and the Senate are also taking the lead to correctly offer a lasting solution is morally and constitutionally sound in process and in its intent. But the renewed debate on immigration also touches on other important points.

It is time to reexamine what is driving families across our southern border. It cannot politically be had both ways as we have often heard from some liberals: Either these countries are states in crisis beset by escalating drug and political violence that drives desperate asylum seekers to America en-masse; or these are model, vibrant states that the president should not be saying anything negative about at all.

Understanding what spurs illegal immigration in turn helps us better position ourselves to deal with it — but this requires an honest assessment drawn from direct questions.

If the case is that the vast majority of these people are seeking seasonal employment, seeking to become Americans or seeking a better life in becoming Americans, these are commendable motives and their entry can be handled ethically and legally — and we will welcome them with open arms should they enter the country through those legal means.

If the case is that the vast majority of these people are fleeing civil strife, war, persecution, violence or horrendous crime, we also have to see these people individually and understand what they hope for: Are they seeking a temporary reprieve, claiming asylum or do they actually want to become Americans?

It must also be borne in mind that such a debate is itself proof that we cannot have open borders, that we, as a nation of laws, must actually have immigration laws. How can anyone seek asylum in America if America does not exist? How can anyone seek to be protected by America’s laws if those laws are not obeyed or enforced to begin with? How can we care for so many who need help if we do not have the capability of doing so?

As we seek to sort things out, always with the goal of making things better, Mexico and others are slamming American immigration policies. One would think the leaders of any other nation would be primarily concerned with why their own citizens are fleeing their own borders in droves in the first place.

Finally, and above all, we must always remind ourselves that we are dealing with a very human situation. Immigrant families, border patrol agents, volunteers, policymakers — these are all human beings. No genuine person wants to see another suffer, especially if he can do something about it.

It is in the God-influenced American character to want to help those in need, especially the least of these among us. But that is going to be made more difficult amid anyone who would sooner call names and play politics instead.