image of young migrant child

Separating Migrant Children – Policy vs. Law

Imagine living under the threat of gang violence every day. Imagine going to the authorities in your home country, only to be threatened with violence for choosing to press charges. Imagine having to travel thousands of miles with your family to escape the violence, possibly crossing multiple borders. Imagine seeking asylum, only to realize that your children are being taken from you by force, before calling you a criminal.

The unimaginable is happening today as more than 2,000 children have already been taken from their parents between April 19th and May 31, and the numbers continue to grow. The separation of children from their families when attempting to enter the border is not something one imagines from a democratic country. It is not something you would imagine out of a country whose motto is E Pluribus Unum, “out of many, one.”

This is the result of a so-called “zero-tolerance policy” that President Trump could end with a stroke of his pen. Instead, he chooses to blame the Democratic party and the Republican-led Congress for his policy.

The people who try to enter this country without prior legal authorization are usually escaping violence, persecution, or extreme poverty. They are now being treated as criminals, taken into custody by federal authorities. It is perfectly legal to come to the United States seeking asylum, yet these families are being separated on the presumption that all are breaking the law.

Previous administrations would send people trying to enter the US, those without a criminal background, to civil court. Now, Attorney General Jeff Sessions Jeff Sessions’ zero-tolerance policy treats everyone entering the country as criminals, sending them to criminal court instead.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has herself repeatedly stated “parents who entered illegally are by definition criminals,” and “by entering our country illegally, often in dangerous circumstances, illegal immigrants have put their children at risk.”

Secretary Nielsen’s statements twist the reality that many of those seeking asylum here in the US are escaping the violence of their home countries.These are human beings trying to make sure their children do not grow up in a dangerous environment and now are being painted as bad parents for trying to give their children a better life.

Past administrations have made exceptions, declining to prosecute adults traveling with minor children. This is not a partisan issue, either. Growing calls from the GOP include Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who angrily noted “President Trump could stop this policy with a phone call.”

President Trump blames his crisis on Democratic lawmakers saying, “the Democrats forced that law upon our nation. I hate it. I hate to see separation of parents and children.” He has also said, “I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law. That’s their law.”

There is law, but there is also policy on how and when to apply the law. The power to dictate policy lies exclusively within the executive branch. In other words, only the President has the power to dictate policy in the enforcement of laws. The law, of course, does not require the Department of Justice (DOJ) to separate these families at the border. If the president truly doesn’t like the fact that families are being separated, then maybe he should let his officials know that and change the policy, something he has direct power and ability to do.

His policy of separating migrant children from their families is unacceptable. As former First Lady Barbara Bush said, “this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral.”

The family is at the core of what America is about and committing to an action such as this to “stem” illegal immigration is not productive, and it does not follow our values.

Ask Henry Lim
Do you have a question for Henry Lim? During over 20 years of practicing law, he has helped more than 10,000 families with their immigration issues. You can Ask Henry a question at or submit a video question by sending a link to one of our channels. For legal assistance, email or call for an appointment: (407) 512-9919. Our first consultation is complimentary.