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Opinion: We still need immigration solutions
In this June 17, 2018, photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people who've been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States, sit in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas.

In the final analysis, it does not matter who built the cages. That they ever existed and were used is a dark stain on the nation’s legacy.

The “cages” in question are the fenced holding pens in which children were kept after being separated from their families as part of the crackdown on illegal immigration at the Mexican border. They became a point of discussion in Thursday’s presidential debate, when Donald Trump was asked about some 545 children who still have not been reunited with their families, despite a 2018 court order to do so.

The president correctly pointed out that the holding pens in which such children were placed were originally built by the Obama administration, of which former Vice President Joe Biden was a part. They were primarily used then to hold families, not just children taken from their parents.

“Who built the cages, Joe?” the president asked repeatedly during the immigration portion of the debate.

Regardless of who built the cages, they should never have been used to take children, some just infants, away from their families as a means of reducing the flow of illegal immigrants into the country. There is no rationale to justify doing so, and the fact that more than 500 of those children may never be reunited with their families should bother every American, regardless of their support for either candidate or political party.

To be clear, it is not just that the federal government doesn’t know where the families are. In most cases, it doesn’t know exactly where the children are either, according to court documents filed by the Justice Department last week as part of an ongoing effort to satisfy the order to reunite the families.

The courts stopped the Trump administration practice of separating children from their families as part of an effort to stop illegal immigration, but not before thousands of such separations had occurred. And while under the Trump administration it was policy to do so on a broad scale, the Obama administration took similar action on a smaller scale in special cases, making it just as guilty.

Most of the missing family members are thought to have returned to their original home countries, leaving their children behind. Most of the children were placed in shelters, and then later homed with sponsors. Some of them the government cannot find, so that even if families are located, it’s possible reunification still may not occur.

Children. Parents. Families. Human beings. And this in the United States.

The torturously sad state of those immigrant children is unfortunately representative of a much bigger and undeniable reality. The government of our nation has not, perhaps cannot, agree on an immigration policy that makes sense.

Times editorial board

Staff members

  • Norman Baggs, general manager

  • Shannon Casas, editor in chief

Community members

  • Cheryl Brown

  • David George

  • Mandy Harris

  • Brent Hoffman

  • J.C. Smith

  • Tom Vivelo

Republicans are to blame. Democrats are to blame. All are to blame, as for decades presidents, Congress and government bureaucrats have employed one Band-aid approach after another to try and fix the problem without any real comprehensive, sustainable effort that has a legitimate chance to succeed.

Obama became known as the king of deportations for the number that happened under his watch. Trump promised to build a wall to keep the illegal immigrants out, though that has not happened on the sort of scale he proposed. Congress, well who knows what a divided Congress wants to do?

Meanwhile millions of illegal immigrants live in fear of what may eventually happen to them, even as entire industries are built on having those same immigrants available to perform duties essential to the nation’s economy. On the one hand, in our public schools we educate children here illegally with their families to prepare them to be productive adults, while on the other we threaten to deport those same children with their families, and make any pathway to citizenship extremely difficult.

Controlling immigration was one of the bedrock issues of Trump’s winning campaign four years ago but has little profile this year, having been pushed aside by a pandemic and national economic concerns and perhaps downplayed because it now is obvious there are no simple solutions to the problem, which is easier to address with heated rhetoric than workable policy.

On the core issues of the immigration debate, are we closer to a long-term solution than we were four years ago? It is hard to say that we are.

As a nation, we can’t even agree on whether those in the country illegally should be counted in the Census that is done every 10 years. The Trump administration said not to do so, the courts said differently, and still the question of whether those who were counted will ultimately be included in the Census totals used for allocations of political representation are unresolved.

If they are not included, states like California and Texas, with high numbers of illegal residents, will lose congressional seats, while others will gain representation. Those same numbers will then filter down to state and local apportionment processes, so that communities with sizeable illegal populations will lose political clout, and the access to funding for government programs that goes with it. Gainesville certainly has something to lose in the Census number debate.

The full scope of the immigration problem is one that has plagued presidents of both parties for years, predating Trump, predating Obama. It is an issue that demands big-picture thinking and coalition building leadership, replete with human compassion and economic common sense. That sort of political leadership has sadly been lacking at the top levels of government for a long time.

Immigration reform is not at the forefront of this year’s presidential campaign, nor should it be until we have found a way to get the pandemic under control and the economy on the right path. But the need for action is still very much there.

And it doesn’t matter who built the cages, as long as they are never used for the same purpose again.

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