Let’s Be Honest

We live in a day of selective outrage; where people choose what and what not to be outraged about and when to be outraged about it. At one moment, a certain measure is perfectly fine, and at the next, it’s “morally bankrupt.” Things are never “void of morality” or simply “nefarious,” they are always “morally bankrupt.” Aside from our need for a fresh phrase, we need intellectual honesty and the equal application of moral criteria. When it comes to the separation of immigrant families, we do not equally apply moral criteria. If we did, then we would also take issue with non-immigrant family separation. But we don’t. This writing is aimed at exploring that.

Intellectual Honesty

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a drug dealer whose family has abandoned you. You are also a single parent. You wake up one morning, brush your teeth, throw on a shirt and some jeans, and go to your respective corner. Someone you’re not familiar with approaches you and asks you for the drugs you’re selling. Thinking it’ll be your usual transaction, you hand this person the drugs and accept his money. Seconds later, a pool of police swarms you and you are arrested.

Keeping in mind that you’re a single parent, what happens to your child? Two things could happen: A family member could take your child, or your child could be taken to Child Protective Services. Only the latter is possible because you have no familial support. As such, you would be separated from your child.

That scenario is one that rings true for the single parent murderers, drug dealers, and other single parent criminal lawbreakers. We ignore those separations and zero-in our focus on those that happen on the Southern border — a minute sect of separations when compared to the whole.

When people treat two things differently, normally there is a difference between them. So, there must be one between Southern border separation and your average government-induced separation (like the one presented in our hypothetical). Though there may not be a difference in fact, and I believe that there isn’t, there is a difference in perception. Here, the difference in perception is because of politics. The evidence of this can be observed in examining the people’s past reactions to border separation and the people’s current reaction to it. There was no reaction to border separation when it occurred under the Obama administration. People didn’t care when he did it. Somehow, those same people (and more) were outraged when that long-running practice was merely continued under the Trump administration. And the only notable change between the two administrations is the media’s coverage of them. The media adored President Obama and actively hates President Trump. Because of that bias, the media’s tone takes a pejorative turn when anything President Trump does is of discussion.

There is no actual difference between border separations and other criminal separations. Yet we react to the former with a distinct horror, while never giving the latter a single thought. This is because a draconian narrative can be (and has been) painted with the former’s paint. Such can’t be done with the latter’s translucent paint because people understand that adults undergoing criminal prosecution cannot bring their children along with them for the ride. Given that there’s no difference between the two, it is a show of flagrant intellectual dishonesty to treat them any differently; you are lying to yourself if you do. So, I implore you not to and urge you to disallow the media from thinking on your behalf.


Those who see separation as an issue, argue that the United States should keep the child with their parent — as opposed to separating the child from their parent. I will dedicate the remainder of this section to examining the practicability of keeping a parent and child together while the parent is undergoing criminal prosecution (in the case of illegal immigration, for violation of 8 U.S. Code § 1325).

For this to work, we have to imagine a universe where young children and infants are allowed in adult correctional facilities. We must also imagine a universe where there are co-ed prisons, so as to allow a child to remain with his or her parent if their parent is of the opposite sex. In such a universe, minors, guilty of no crime, would be placed in prison and subjected to a plethora of invasive safety precautions taken by correctional facilities. This would include random searches, using the bathroom with no privacy, bathing in front of others (perhaps even before pedophilic adults), and other borderline inhumane measures of that sort. Putting yourself back in the shoes of our hypothetical parent, consider whether you’d be comfortable with your child being subjected to those horrendous conditions. Hopefully, the answer is no.

One might suggest ridding of such measures, but I would probe: At the risk of everyone’s safety in the facility? Needless to say (except that this subject obliges me to say it), that wouldn’t be reasonable. One might also suggest that daycare-like areas should be created in prisons to accommodate children. That sounds fine but would defeat the purpose of keeping the child with the parent. Which is, plainly, for the child to stay with the parent. Not for the child to be babysat by prison employees.

Broadly stating that a child should not be separated from their parent (who is undergoing criminal prosecution) sounds good in theory, but would fail miserably in practice, as has been demonstrated. As such, it is impractical.

The Solution

Given its impracticability, that argument should be abandoned. The better one is that the conditions of the children detention centers are not “safe and sanitary,” as the Flores v. Reno settlement requires. This is something that both sides could commit to fixing through the allocation of necessary funds. Both sides could also agree with researching and implementing more efficient ways of keeping track of both the child and the putative parent. Those are practical and workable solutions to the crisis on the Southern border. The only instance in which I can foresee them not being agreed upon is if the discussion were downgraded to politically driven slights. So, I further implore you not to engage in that exercise and to maintain focus on fixing the problem.

I hope that this writing will start new, substantive conversations amongst Americans about how to fix what is happening on the Southern border. I also hope that this has encouraged you to be more conscious of the media’s influence and to view proposals through less theoretical and more practical lenses. If an idea works in theory but not in practice, then the theory is broken. And it does no good to subscribe to broken theories. So, don’t.

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Writing about controversial legal, academic, and political topics. Contact: JemilleQ.Duncan@gmail.com

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