US President Donald Trump, who made new tales of autocratic arrogance by wresting children from their parents and putting them behind bars, eventually had to kneel before the sobs from kids. At the face of such worldwide condemnation, he had to abandon the solution he attempted to stop cross-border immigration in the name of national security, and without regard for constitutional regulations or precedents.
When minors below 18 and without any dear and near ones and parents reach the US across land border without documents, America follows the system of punishing them both by separating the children and put them in semi-permanent prison cells with less stringent restrictions. The immigration laws of the country clearly state what is to be done with such children. And governments of different hue and colour, from time to time have adopted a humane approach in the matter.
Existing laws demand that the children brought by those who get caught for illegal entry, should be handed over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement under Department of Health and Human Services, with best interests of children in mind. If there are relatives, the children have to be entrusted to them, or they can be nursed in detention centres. They have to be provided with medical assistance, and mental health care, plus educational assistance as needed. The Homeland Security department should find sponsors for the children and they are not to be kept in detention for longer than 20 days. All this is part of law. When this law was enforced against unauthorized immigration, the approach taken by US Presidents was a little more lenient prior to 2000. Families were arrested and then released, but they had to face trial as required by law, and were sentenced after trial. When George W Bush became president, with the then stress on zero tolerance of illegal immigration, immigration law was tightened. Even then, under 'Operation Streamline', family units arriving with children and minors who arrived alone were kept out of the scope of law. What was characteristic of law enforcement at that stage was speedy trial and expulsion of immigrants. During Obama's administration, the sentence was executed without separating the kids from the families.
Donald Trump, who ever since taking office has been indulging in reckless denunciation of immigration, has so far made hysterical pronouncements. It transpired only later than he was bent on executing whatever he said. It was six weeks after he implemented the zero tolerance policy towards immigrants in April, that the world woke up to its repercussions. Within two months, close to 2,000 children were separated from their parents and accommodated alone. The law does not lay down that when illegal immigrants are arrested, their children should be separated. Not only that, the convention was that it would lead to lighten the punishment to their parents too. But Trump, who is convinced that law does not have human touch, knows only about ruthless attitudes. He is firm that there are only two choices: put children of illegal immigrants in jail even by separating, or keep the borders open. For him there is no third choice. Thus, the damage and suffering caused by arrests of refugees since last October, came to the world's attention only from last month.
Despite clamour in the US Congress, the government has not released data about how many children were split from their parents. Finally it was media men, with the help of voluntary organizations working on the subject, who got at the pitiable situation. With that, the government could not but acknowledge it. Different organizations brought the issue before the world through varying forms of protest. Audio tapes playing children held prisoners in temporary detention centres making endless cries, became viral. That led to global protests. Even within the White House, opinion was divided. What more, Trump's wife Melania too publicly opposed the law pulling children away from parents. Lara Bush, wife of former President George W Bush, a Republican like Trump, also shared the view that illegal immigrants could be arrested, but the children should be let go. Hilary Clinton opined that this is something that any human being with feeling, sympathy and honour cannot tolerate. Then came the statistic last month that in spite of this extent of rigidity, there was no let up in immigration; that became another setback to the President.
When pressure built up at home and abroad, Trump was forced to relax the law. The protests can be said to have succeeded in convincing Trump that although it would become a dictator to take law literally, it will not be fitting for a ruler. But whether Donald Trump will stop with that is something only Donald Trump can tell.