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Op-Ed: Trump’s zero tolerance policy is wrong answer to illegal immigration

BY STATE SENATOR JAMES SANDERS, JR.

When it comes to tackling illegal immigration, President Trump’s methods do more harm than good. I am sure many of you have seen and been horrified by the recent images in the media of children being torn away from their parents at the U.S. – Mexico Border as a result of President Trump’s zero tolerance policy. Some 2,000 children have been separated from their parents since the policy took effect in April with no clear method to reunite them.

Because of public outcry and pressure from political leaders including Republicans, Trump recently issued an executive order that would now allow families to stay together while the parents are held pending criminal charges or immigration proceedings. In response to concerns about long wait times, President Trump announced on Sunday that he wanted to eliminate due process all together and immediately deport those who enter the country illegally without ever allowing them to have a trial or appear before a judge.

All of these methods are meant to keep people out of our country at any cost and according to Trump act as a deterrent to discourage illegal immigration. Trump said that he, “likes to be strong” and that migrants were, “using the children as a ticket to get into” the country.

Clearly illegal immigration is an issue. However, I contend that we should be having a different conversation. We need to attack the problem at the root and that means addressing the issues that are making people leave their home countries and come to the United States in the first place. Many of these immigrants are from Mexico and Central American countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, known for crime, including gang-related crime and extortion, as well as, corruption and poverty. In fact, El Salvador is the most violent country in the world that is not a war zone. Many people leaving that country do so because they fear for their lives.

We need to try to spread Democracy. You cannot jail this problem away. We need to be saving families and giving these people a chance at life. I was speaking to a source at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and I asked him whether he thinks ripping families apart or any other of these Trump policies deters illegal immigration and he said, ‘No’. He explained to me that some of these people are coming from countries where the situation is so dire that even a few months away in a place like the United States where they could get food, healthcare and education for their children, makes it worth it.

If that’s the choice that people are forced into making, then the time for long-term change is now. We need to increase foreign aid and create fair trade with these countries. Right now, our trade system is designed to sell American goods and equipment, so it just elevates our industries. In addition, people in many of these countries do not own any land with corporations or dictators often in control. 

You can build the biggest wall you wish and people will still find a way to get into the United States. They’ll get creative and do whatever is necessary. Most people love their country and their family, but they are driven here out of fear and necessity. If they had a democracy, fair trade and human rights, they would be less likely to leave their home. For those who do want to remain here permanently, we should create a path to citizenship.

The migrant children that were recently ensnared at the U.S. – Mexico border, are being held at detention centers across the United States. I have not found any such places in Queens, yet, but Governor Cuomo has said there are about 700 children separated from their parents and living in New York facilities. We also know from media reports that at least eight children are being held at Mercy First, a not-for-profit human service agency on Long Island.

We are a nation of immigrants. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We may have all come here on different shipsbut we‘re in the same boat now.” It is clear we have a humanitarian crisis at our Southern border and we must take swift and proper action that helps migrants instead of treating them like an infestation of criminals preying on the United States.

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