Imagine fearing for your life and seeing no alternative for a better future than to leave your homeland, put your life at risk, and head for another country — knowing that what you’re doing, while it might be right for you, is likely illegal. That’s the reality for migrants from Central America who make the dangerous trek to cross the southern border of the United States. For many, it’s borne of a feeling of desperation and fear, particularly in areas where gangs are present.
The United States government seems willing to risk that a policy of separating children from adult asylum seekers who have cross the border illegally, it may deter others from taking that same path toward freedom. Regardless of one’s politics, it seems like a cruel tactic that will only cause more hardship. Academic studies, including the Centers For Disease Control’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study conducted between 1995 and 1997 show that exposure to trauma as a child leads to greater incidence of health and social problems later in life. Researchers have also suggested there is a link between incarceration and childhood experiences.
Care must be taken to ensure vulnerable young children feel safe and supported at all times and, in most cases, that’s best achieved when they are with their families. Even if their parents are tried for trying to enter the country illegally, that isn’t the children’s fault and they don’t deserve to be punished for those transgressions. The simultaneous costs of both prosecuting all illegal migrants and providing proper care for the children also appears to be public money poorly spent.
That’s not to say President Donald Trump is wrong in his desire to maintain his country’s legal borders in a safe and secure fashion — in fact, all countries, including Canada, that are taking on increasing numbers of migrants should be doing everything they can to properly screen incoming people and to ensure they have the capacity to accommodate that influx. It simply means that another approach may be necessary.
Maybe, the money the Americans are spending on court costs, enforcement, and processing could go to streamlining legal immigration processes and encouraging people to apply, or at least declare themselves asylum seekers in an appropriate way and gain a hearing.
Perhaps there’s a need in migrants’ country of origin for increased pre-screening efforts through the United Nations or in concert with American and Canadian so that legitimate asylum seekers are less likely to take a risk of trying to enter another country illegally. More could also be done on the diplomatic front to ensure other countries in the Americas are places people want to remain and build prosperity — but that will take resources and a collective will toward that end. There’s definitely a case to do the cost analysis and see if there’s a better path forward.
At the end of the day, the global migration crisis is a polarizing issue both in the United States and Canada — and elsewhere in the world — with some extreme views on either side. Stoking that divide through family separation doesn’t appear to be a wise tactic either, let alone its impact on children. Instead, people on both sides of the political spectrum should be looking at moving from their absolutes to start dialogue about an appropriate way to handle the crisis that provides security, is cost-effective, and provides an avenue for all people to contribute and prosper. It’s possible, but only when stakeholders bring an open mind to negotiations.