Culture Wars/Current Controversies

‘Enforcing the Law’ Doesn’t Justify Separating Migrant Children from their Parents

By Ilya Somin


The Trump administration recently adopted a “zero tolerance” policy under which undocumented immigrants apprehended by federal officials are forcibly separated from their children. In April and May alone, almost 2000 children were torn from their parents and detained separately, often under cruel conditions likely to cause trauma and inflict longterm developmental damage. Attorney General Jeff Sessions claims that separation of families is justified by the need to enforce the law, and even asserts that the administration’s policy is supported by the Bible. I will leave the Biblical issues to theologians and cardinals, who have addressed them far better than I could. But Sessions’ secular argument is no better than his religious one. There is no law requiring family separation at the border. And even if there was, that still would not be enough to justify the administration’s cruel policy.

The federal law criminalizing “improper entry” by aliens does not require family separation. The law also provides for the use of civil penalties, as well as criminal ones. While it states that the application of civil penalties does not preclude application of criminal ones, it also does not compel federal prosecutors to pursue both. Until the administration’s recent policy change, civil proceedings were in fact the usual approach in case of families with minor children, under both Democratic and Republican administrations. The use of civil proceedings generally does not require pretrial detention, and therefore obviates the need to detain either parents or children; some civil defendants were detained, nonetheless, but in facilities where families can stay together. The Trump administration, by contrast, has sometimes even forcibly separated children from migrants who have not violated any law, but instead have legally crossed the border to petition for asylum in the United States.


9 replies »

  1. Ironically, without the mess that the state has created, this wouldn’t even be an issue:

    In a society based on voluntary communities and associations, people have the right to associate or not associate with whomever they want. Those who want to be inclusive of migrants from elsewhere would have every right to do so, and those who wanted to exclude migrants (or anyone else) would have every right to do so. Invited migration would be no different from going to visit someone else’s house, and uninvited migration would be no different than trespassing in someone else’s backyard. A similar analysis could be applied to many other things that are now considered to be “crimes” (like drug dealing).

    Also, the issue of the fate of children of parents who get arrested is hardly a new one:

    Nor is the enforcement of immigration law the only form of law enforcement that potentially causes harm to children:

    To those who complain about these things, I would say the first course of action should be renunciation of the state. Don’t want Border Patrol agents and ICE abusing migrant children? Renounce the state. Don’t want people killed or injured in drug raids? Renounce the state. Don’t want cops harassing, beating, or killing young black kids? Renounce the state. Don’t want federal agents harassing gun owners? Renounce the state. So-called “right-wing authoritarians” who consistently apologize for statism can perhaps be forgiven because, well, that’s just what they do. But progressives, liberals, libertarians, leftists, and small “c” conservative big-government haters need to recognize that they can’t have their statist cake and eat it too.

    • Liberalism is a failure and it will be bread out of the population in a generation or two. Whether that is the fault of the political class or the platonic state is immaterial. The laws that govern human tribal interaction demand that a submissive majority is destroyed by the vocal minority. There is no constituency for liberalism among either mestizos or arabs. The future is authoritarian, socially conservative, anti-market, and will be ushered in by chants for tolerance, love, and voluntary exchange.

      • Many of the arguments that you are making are very similar to what was frequently said about Irish, German, Italian, Polish, and other European immigrants in the 19th century and early 20th century. For instance, there was a major fear among WASPs that Catholic immigrants would hand America over to the Vatican. Are Latin American immigrants really that different from Southern and Eastern Europeans? They speak a European language (Spanish), practice a European religion (Catholicism), and have a culture that’s somewhat similar to that of Spain, Portugal or Italy. Also, the Latin American countries experienced republican revolutions in the 19th and 20th century in the same way as the Europeans, and while there have been frequent reversions into more conventional authoritarianism in Latin America, that hasn’t been any more true than what happened in the 20th century in Germany, Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal as well. And most of the Latin American countries have experienced significant liberalization in recent decades. The only one that is still a conventional dictatorship is Cuba, and even they are headed toward the Chinese model of economic liberalization.

        Despite the Trump administration’s policies, I agree that elites generally want immigration from Latin America for the sake of cheap labor for business, constituents for state institutions, future Democratic Party voters, etc. I have written and spoken about that in the past. But your vision of a future Latin American caudillo in the United States seems a bit far fetched. I think a more realistic scenario is that in the future Latin American immigrants will go in two directions: Some will be more like the Italians and other “white ethnics” in the sense of being an outgroup that was once disliked but has largely assimilated into the mainstream culture, while others will be more like the African-American “underclass” in the sense of being a lower socioeconomic level group that seems stuck in permanent poverty (although that only applies to about 20% of African-Americans at present, as most blacks now have working to middle class incomes or better, and are increasingly being integrated into the mainstream).

        I agree that Islamic immigration in Europe is more problematic because the cultural and religious differences are greater. The big question is whether or not Muslim immigrants will assimilate into the European culture, or remain a separate culture that is antagonistic to the larger society. My guess is that it will be some of both. Second, third, and fourth generation Muslim immigrants will often assimilate (and start listening to hip hop and wearing mini skirts and all that), while others will remain a religious subculture that reject mainstream mores (like America’s Christian Right, Mormons, JWs, Amish, etc.). On the margins, there will be Islamic terrorist groups (like the communist and fascist terrorist groups that troubled Europe in the 1970s). The claim that Europe is destined to become Saudi Arabia is a bit far fetched.

        • Vision is for the prophetic. I am simply a quant with numbers. I see no reason liberal birth rates will rise. Indeed they continue to fall while socially conservative, authoratarian, anti-market populations bloom. What the genetic makeup of the west is could pitch and yaw with various waves of immigration, but it cannot be doubted that European liberalism will be a historical memory in a matter of two to three generations. Tolerance has been clearly illustrated as hard population filter.

    • Keith:

      You must be well aware of the degree to which migration-prohibition apologists conflate the freedom to associate in the explicit interpersonal sense with the euphemistic “freedom to associate” in the communal, or more accurately, fictional sense. The idea that “we decide who lives in this community” is dangerous, and has, as a historical matter and as a contemporary matter, universally been used to exclude individuals from particular spaces, where the right to exclude is not really tied to actually-existing property rights, but rather, is based on ambiguous assertions that some how a collection of people in a particular area, by virtue of living in that area, obtain the right to regulate the totality of that area, well beyond the confines of their particular parcels, and well beyond any explicit covenant or conditions to which each and every individual has agreed.

      The only way to establish a “voluntary community” which prohibits migration is if and only if -all- land within the community is privately owned, and then everyone individual’s ownership is explicitly contractually subject to use-restrictions, specifically barring the use of each individual’s property by an arriving migrant. No such society exists, or is likely to exist, because the cost of imposing these restrictions upon both each-and-every existing member of an area (i.e. paying them to accept restrictive covenants on their use of their parcels) is higher than the demand for prohibition, unless it is socialized via the use of force through taxation, rather than through a pay-for-consent agreement.

      Not only that: communities almost always, if not universally, claim the authority to regulate migration, not only onto parcels actually used and occupied by owners within that community, but over the general area and its resources, whether used or unused, occupied or unoccupied. In doing so they assert dominion over property to which they have no plausible claim.

      The notion that an exclusionary community is possible, under ideal circumstances, by consent, and without claiming ownership over unused parcels on the basis of mere proximity, is a red herring when offered in defense of any actually-existing migration-prohibition scheme.

  2. Those who don’t want borders for countries still want their homes to stay theirs. Like squatters, these people break in and expect to stay. They do not really generate tax benefits. All this does is lower the standards of living for the natives. This crazy idea that America “owes” something to these people is toxic. Americans have little control over foreign policy. However, I doubt any of you would allow people to simply break into your homes, demand to stay there, and cost you money personally. This idea of no borders destroys any idea of private property or having your own home. That communal living may seem good as a voluntary act, but when people force their way in, ITS ALWAYS DIFFERENT.

    • Since anti-prohibitionists (on the issue of migration) rest their entire position on the distinction between legitimate private property (your home) and State-National “property” arising out of legal pronouncement (i.e. the asserted claim to “own” the entire land mass of a geographic reason for the purpose of determining who is trespassing thereupon), your analogy is fucking retarded.

      • I hardly think so. All of you individuals know little about nature. There are no “lone wolves” in the wild. If you see a lone wolf, it has been kicked out of its group and will probably die. All of you who are dumb enough to expect that these South of the Border hombres will adopt Libertarian or Anarchist values are just ignorant. These people cling to their familias for LIFE. They NEVER “leave the nest”. Whole families and clans LIVE TOGETHER. Its a NECESSARY WAY OF LIFE FOR THEM. THEY WILL NEVER ADOPT YOUR “INDIVIDUALISM”.
        “Individualism” is a luxury the Aegis of Western Civilization has allowed you to pursue. These people come from a DANGEROUS ENVIRONMENT. The police might rob, rape and shoot them. The government only cares about the Rich. What’s the difference? America used to be different. Now its morphing to their LOWER STANDARDS. Any “lone wolf” or individual is EASY PICKINGS FOR A GROUP. All of you will be absorbed into a group, or DIE. There are NO INDIVIDUALS outside of the Aegis of Western Civilization. There is not the Rule of Law or Safety to ALLOW IT TO SURVIVE THERE.

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