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The Stark Policy Choice: Should America Welcome Kids Fleeing Violence, or Send Them Back to the Violence They Fled?

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Cut through the noise. Break through the fog of GOP talking points. Disregard the Sunday show hype. The choice before America’s policy makers is this: Should America welcome kids fleeing violence, or send them back to the violence they fled?

Former Trump administration officials and GOP policymakers argue that we should return to Trump policies that block kids at the border or send them back to the communities they fled.

The Biden administration argues that we should keep the border closed for now, except for unaccompanied minors who are seeking safety and family in America. 

The Trump Option

On Fox News this weekend, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) called for extending Title 42 exclusions to encompass unaccompanied minors (a practice federal courts have ruled illegal), reinstituting the “safe third country” agreements with Central American countries, and reviving the Remain in Mexico or MPP program. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) proposed the same policies in an interview with MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan on Sunday.

Human Rights First recently wrote on the dangers of returning children and families to Mexico in a report titled, Trump Administration Sending Asylum Seekers and Migrants to Danger:

“As of February 19, 2021, there are at least 1,544 publicly reported cases of murder, rape, torture, kidnapping, and other violent assaults against asylum seekers and migrants forced to return to Mexico by the Trump Administration under this illegal scheme. Among these reported attacks are 341 cases of children returned to Mexico who were kidnapped or nearly kidnapped.”

What about the option of sending minors to so-called “safe third countries?” A Senate Foreign Relations Committee report released in January shows that not a single asylum seeker sent to a “safe third country” to obtain asylum actually received asylum.  According to Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ):

“Nobody imagined that America’s asylum policies would be systematically weaponized and twisted to the point where they purposely put vulnerable people in danger, yet that is exactly what President Trump did with his shameful Asylum Cooperative Agreements. This report exposes how the Trump administration made a mockery of the U.S. asylum system, subverting U.S. law and undermining our leadership on refugee matters.”

The Biden Option

The Biden administration believes that kids fleeing for their lives should not be deported to danger, but rather should be admitted, processed and sent on to family members to pursue their protection claim under U.S. law. As the Washington Post recently reported, “About 90 percent of the minors are released to relatives living in the United States, and in about half those instances, the relative is at least one of their parents.” Although overwhelmed in recent weeks due to increased numbers, dismantled shelter capacity and COVID protocols, the administration’s goal is to get children out of the conditions that they face in CBP custody, which are not places children should be, and into child-appropriate care as quickly as possible.

This is part of a significant shift in approach to managing migration and protecting refugees. The Biden plan is to create more opportunities for legal migration from the region while simultaneously working to reduce the need to migrate or seek refuge. Their plan is to set up entry points for unaccompanied minors in-country, refugee admissions and resettlement from third countries in the region, as well as expanded legal avenues for those migrating to work and join family. The idea is to take pressure off of the border, and to increase security and opportunities at home so migration becomes a matter of choice rather than a matter of life and death. 

It is worth noting that, under the Biden administration, there is nothing like an “open border.” Some three quarters of those trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border are stopped and removed under Title 42 public health restrictions. We don’t like it, but that is what’s going on. The main group exempted from this are unaccompanied minors because a court ordered in November that they cannot be stopped under Title 42. These are kids fleeing life-threatening danger and brutal sexual violence in Central America. The law says we should protect them, not deport them. 

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

When the noise dies down and the fog lifts, the policy choice at the heart of the current border debate is stark: should we protect kids who are fleeing for their lives, or should we send them back to the danger they are fleeing?

Trump and his GOP followers want to send the kids back to danger. Biden and the Democrats think we should protect these children rather than sending them back into the burning house they escaped. 

While the political class clucks and crows about ‘the crisis’ at the border, we are going to side with the administration that finds terrified children at the door, takes them in to keep them safe, and sends them on to loved ones. Anything less would constitute a moral crisis.