During a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday on border security and the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, Democratic Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon compared U.S. border officials to Nazis “back in Germany” who were “just following orders.”
Scanlon’s comments came after hours of testimony from administration officials and questioning from lawmakers over the separation of thousands of foreign children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
While there’s much to criticize about the administration’s family separation policy, Scanlon, a freshman Democrat from Pennsylvania, betrayed a deep ignorance of how our southwest border works and what federal law enforcement agencies like the U.S. Border Patrol face daily.
Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA) compared border security officials to Nazis “back in Germany” during a hearing on the border in the House Judiciary Committee. pic.twitter.com/yBuuQsX4oa
— Steve Guest (@SteveGuest) February 26, 2019
Even setting aside (for now) her comparison of U.S. border officials to Nazis, Scanlon seems unaware of basic legal terminology used by federal immigration officials. “As I’ve been listening here I’ve been struck a couple of times by the denial of humanity of many of these families and children,” she said. “When the issue is framed as an invasion by aliens, and when we refer to children as UACs, it’s easier to pretend they’re not human or worthy of compassion.”
Perhaps Scanlon is unaware that UAC is an acronym for “unaccompanied alien children.” It’s not an epithet, but a term used to distinguish unaccompanied children from other categories of people who are apprehended after crossing illegally into the United States.
When groups of migrants turn themselves in to federal law enforcement along the border, as they have been doing in record numbers over the past year, U.S. Border Patrol agents must determine, among other things, who is unaccompanied and who is traveling with a family member. They must do so on the spot, at all hours of the day and night, often in remote areas with very little support or backup. In some cases, groups numbering in the hundreds will turn themselves in to a handful of Border Patrol agents.
The use of terms like UACs is actually meant to help those minors traveling alone, and indeed Border Patrol protocol dictates that UACs be given priority over all other categories of migrants, because they are the most vulnerable.
Scanlon goes on to display an unsettling absence of knowledge about the family migration crisis writ large, saying, “When you say that they cause of migration is legal loopholes or bad judicial decisions rather than the dire conditions of violence and poverty in these peoples’ home countries that’s literally driving them from home, I think it’s easier to slam the door against these kids and these families.”
In fact, the cause of migration is both legal loopholes and the dire conditions in migrants’ home countries. Poverty and violence might be driving Central American families to leave their home countries and seek a better life in the United States, but legal loopholes are indeed what allows them, if they arrive with at least one child, to claim asylum at the border and be released after a few days with orders to appear before an immigration judge at some future dates—a process that, because of a backlog in our immigration courts, can take years. Most of these claimants are not legally eligible for asylum because they do not meet the criteria for qualifying.
All that aside, Scanlon’s attempt to portray U.S. Border Patrol agents as Nazis and to equate the processing of foreign citizens illegally crossing the U.S. border with the extermination of Jews during World War II is outrageous and completely disconnected from reality. Immigration and border officials, who face enormous challenges trying to process and care for unprecedented numbers of families and minors showing up on the U.S. border, deserve better.