This Oct. 2, 2012, file photo shows U.S. Border Patrol agents patrolling the border fence near Naco, Ariz. The United States has spent billions of dollars over the last decade fencing a third of its southwest border with Mexico in an attempt to stop the flood of illegal immigrants. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Keep kids with parents at border — and remember how we got here

(RNS) — Last week during the height of the media’s fixation on the United States’ southwestern border, some accused the evangelical leaders who advise President Trump, of whom I’m one, of staying silent about children being separated from their parents. While this is not a new problem, the media’s attention has brought it to the forefront of public discussion, and I have been a part of that discussion.

We at Family Research Council have publicly addressed this recent controversy and do believe the Trump administration needs to pursue a border policy that does not separate minor children from their parents. The images of children separated from their parents at our southern border are troubling, as they should be to every American. It doesn’t matter if the separations took place under the Obama administration or the Trump administration; policies that separate children from their parents lack the compassion that should be a hallmark of a nation founded on Christian principles.

Our relationship with the administration means that we have the opportunity to communicate our concerns, which we have done and continue to do. In a meeting last week between Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a small group of evangelical leaders and pastors, including me, the message was clear: We support the rule of law, the “zero-tolerance” policy, but we also want to see a compassionate response to the families attempting to cross the border illegally.

The dramatic increase in families flowing across the border has also led to a growth in the exploitation and trafficking of children. According to the administration, there has been a 315 percent increase in adults detained at the border with minors who turned out not to be their children. We also discussed expanding the use of DNA tests to verify family relationships to prevent or at least deter human trafficking.

In fact, being compassionate and upholding the rule of law are not competing and incompatible ideals; to the contrary, justice and mercy are cornerstones of civil society.

In the absence of comprehensive action by Congress — which would address all the factors that have contributed to the current situation — Trump’s executive order on detaining families at the border establishes a framework for addressing the crisis that is both consistent with our law and compassionate in its application.

Our government cannot make any headway if its measures are not enforced. Over the last decade and a half, previous administrations have failed to uphold the rule of law on the border, undercutting the very foundation of genuine compassion and leading to the current crisis. The ugly scenes of families being separated are blatant examples of the cruelty that flows from ignoring the law.

We see this in the growth of families as a percentage of illegal immigrants coming across the border. From October 2012 to September 2013 (fiscal 2013), just under 15,000 families were apprehended at the U.S. Border Patrol’s southwest border stations. By fiscal 2017, that number had mushroomed to over 75,000.

What drove the 400 percent increase? The rapid and unsustainable growth in families illegally crossing the southwest border is the result of a combination of factors.

First, the growing violence, poverty and instability of Central America are causing many families to flee countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. According to the United Nations, from 2011 to 2016 there has been an astounding 2,249 percent increase in the number of people just fleeing these three countries.

This situation has been compounded by the Obama administration’s unilateral decision in 2012 not to adequately enforce the immigration laws. Without congressional action, the Obama administration effectively declared through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy that an estimated 800,000 children who'd come to the U.S. illegally would not be deported.

This fueled a steady flow of unaccompanied minors illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Just two years after DACA, the number of unaccompanied children, some as young as 3 and 4 years old, exploded, with 28,579 of them being apprehended at the border.

Intentionally or not, a further policy dictating that adults apprehended at the border with children would not be arrested but released pending a deportation hearing would turn children into free tickets to cross the border.

Most Americans recognize that parents who choose to send or bring their children on the dangerous and often deadly journey across the border bear the ultimate responsibility. But we cannot ignore the contributing factors of societal instability and the lax enforcement of our laws; both serve as incentives. These issues, combined with many problems within our current immigration law, make it abundantly clear Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform.

If the executive order survives the courts, it will undoubtedly be more compassionate than previous policies, which enticed parents and other adults attempting illegal crossings to subject children to the dangers of the desert, the division of families and even death.

(Tony Perkins is president of Family Research Council. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)


  1. Perkins has just stated the understanding of a majority of Americans. 63% of Americans want families illegally crossing the border kept together. But 64% want the adults detained, including 70% of those that want the families kept together. So keep the families together, but detain them at the border.

  2. Notorious hate group leader Tony Perkins is giving an op-ed where he goes through his usual rationalization of the reprehensible. To justify attacks on the lives of others. Well I can’t be surprised by this. The man has always been of low character. His excuses for the humanitarian disaster entirely of Trump’s creation are just terrible.

    For a more objective take on what is happening and why one cannot simply accept the administration’s excuses for it, see the link below.

    Trump’s actions have been deliberately malicious and sought to harm children for the purposes of political leverage. Literal hostage taking. Those unaccompanied minors are legitimate asylum seekers who should have been put through foster care rather than locked up as CONSERVATIVES DEMANDED. Just as conservatives are demanding that asylum claims be ignored and deliberately frustrated. For people to be locked up in a system with no oversight and prone to abuse and deliberate harm. This is not a rational or even remotely well throught out policy. It is the work of neo-nazi HHS head Stephen Miller solely for the purpose of attacking people for its own sake. To normalize atrocious behavior by the adminstration.

    As for DACA, these are people who have spent their lives in this country and were willing to risk being documented by the government for a chance to serve it. Trump’s policy is a betrayal of them and a waste of hundreds of thousands of people who are more than willing to contribute to our nation. Rather than treat them well and earn the respect of close to a million potential voters, Trump and Perkins seek to attack them and serve purely bigoted interests.

    “Intentionally or not, a further policy dictating that adults apprehended
    at the border with children would not be arrested but released pending a
    deportation hearing would turn children into free tickets to cross the

    Like most ignorant apologists for Trump’s policies, Mr. Perkins does not understand how asylum procedures work and has no respect for the system in place for such things. One puts themselves into the legal immigration system for their claims to be evaluated. ONLY if USCIS approves the request does one get to stay here legally, otherwise they would be subject to deportation.

    And no, Tony our policies here are neither an incentive nor disincentive for people to be coming here illegally or as asylum seekers. It has always been our economy and way of life which has done that. Short of intentionally abusing, torturing and executing people (which I doubt Mr. Perkins objects to in any way), there is virtually nothing which can make conditions here worse than the places people are fleeing from to get here.

    “If the executive order survives the courts, it will undoubtedly be more compassionate than previous policies”

    Really? Compassionate and sensible policies have not been in Trump’s purview since taking office. What a load of garbage!

  3. If the Trump administration was so much for enforcement of laws, due process and rule of law, then why is there no effort at oversight/accountability at the detention centers?

    Why were they trying to keep those detained from having access to legal counsel?

  4. I actually this was a well written and balanced piece. Let’s work together.

  5. The only thing I pasted here was the link from Warisboring, a militaria website, and Perkin’s own statements from this article.

    Feel free to give the link to where I allegedly got the rest from. Show me up. I am double dog daring you 🙂

  6. Of course the complete failure to enforce the law in the previous Administration led the people showing up at the border to believe there’d be no problem.

    Compassion is no longer at issue.

    Law enforcement is needed, and if the laws are inadequate, new laws are needed.

    We have borders, and they should be delineated and guarded.

  7. The notion that “there no effort at oversight/accountability at the detention centers” is complete hogwash.

  8. Not only are the 2,000+ kids awaiting reunion still locked up, the new policy is family detention in internment camps for indefinite time periods.

    The old policy Trump dubbed ‘catch and release’ that supervised people in the community, including ankle monitors for adults, was over 99% effective at getting people to their hearings. It was also MUCH cheaper and MUCH more humane.

    This is about two things – 1) deterring people in danger from fleeing to save their lives and 2) Trump throwing red meat to his nativist base. In both cases, cruelty is not an unfortunate unavoidable side-product, it’s the whole damned point.

  9. No one is getting released until they have been adjudged.

    You folks are building a Republic win in the mid-terms with this silliness.

  10. This reminds me of a scene from “The West Wing” pilot, where they’re discussing how to handle a group of Cuban refugees. There’s a storm barreling down on them and the boats they’re on are really rickety, so there’s a concern they’re not going to make it. One character suggests optimistically, “So the Cubans will turn around and live to defect another day,” and another answers back: “Yes, because they’re all tuned to the National Weather Service.”

    I keep hearing that scene when I hear people talk like harsher policies or even looser ones will have any kind of an impact with who tries to come here. In some situations it would, certainly; with immigration of adults for jobs, for instance. But here we’re talking about situations in home countries that are so bad, facing such a dangerous journey is actually rational. These people aren’t tuned into the National Weather Service, but they (and we) still have to deal with the reality of the storm bearing down on them.

    Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t have laws here and enforce them. There are lots of reasons why we should respect the rule of law that have nothing to do with preventing immigration, legal or otherwise. But it seems like a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation to think this will keep people from trying to come here. They’re already facing far worse or they wouldn’t risk the crossing anyway.

Leave a Comment