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No, The Trump Administration Is Not Torturing Migrants

AOC talks about climate change, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Perusing recent coverage of the border crisis, a casual reader might conclude the federal government is keeping migrant children in cages, torturing their parents, and operating World War II-style concentration camps for Central Americans apprehended along the southwest border.

Over the weekend, The New York Times ran an op-ed denouncing “mass atrocity” along the border and calling for doxxing Border Patrol agents. The author, a human rights lawyer, concedes that the Trump administration’s treatment of migrants doesn’t rise to the level of the killing fields of Cambodia or the genocide of Rwanda, but nevertheless it “appears to be the case” that “harsh conditions have been intentionally inflicted on children,” and that “the individuals running detention centers are arguably directly responsible for torture.”

Then on Monday during a trip to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility on Monday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told reporters she “was not safe from the officers,” and that migrants there were forced to drink out of toilets and subjected to “psychological torture.” On Twitter, she wrote, “This has been horrifying so far. It is hard to understate the enormity of the problem. We’re talking systemic cruelty w/a dehumanizing culture that treats them like animals.”

Sounds pretty bad, if true. But is it true? Is the Trump administration perpetuating a “mass atrocity” on the border and threatening members of Congress who ask too many questions? More specifically, are children still being separated from their parents? Are these “detention camps” we hear about creations of the Trump administration and its zero tolerance policy?

In a word, no. Family separation—an admittedly vile policy—ended a year ago. The CBP detention centers are not operating any differently today than they were during the Obama administration, with the exception that today they are overcrowded and undermanned,  so there are problems with sanitation and conditions at some of the facilities.

But the Central Americans apprehended by Border Patrol are not being held against their will, nor are children being kept in cages. Indeed, the entire statutory regime under which the Trump administration is dealing with the border crisis is no different than it was under Obama, because Congress has not changed any laws regulating the agencies in charge—despite the manifest reasons why it should.

The Media Is Misleading Americans About the Crisis

What we’re witnessing is something closer to the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation circus: Democrats and their courtiers in the media have decided they will claim the moral high ground, even if it means jettisoning all sense of reality and historical fact.

Consider a recent “analysis” article posted at NBC News, headlined, “Trump’s family separation policy never really ended. This is why.” The article explains that although Trump ended family separation by executive order last June, families are still being separated—700 since the policy was supposedly ended last year. This is being done, we’re told, “under the guise of fitting into a narrow exception to the order—that the parent poses a danger to the child, or has a serious criminal record or gang affiliation. (The exception can also be invoked if the parent is sick, or when an aunt, uncle or sibling is accompanying the child.)”

The authors of the article argue that what should be a “narrow exception” is being exploited to perpetuate family separation. But this is a misapprehension of the nature and scope of what’s transpiring at the border. Since last June, more than 860,000 people have been apprehended, and at an increasing rate. More than 84,500 families were apprehended just in the month of May. This total includes adults falsely claiming to be parents of children who aren’t theirs, and migrants over the age of 18 posing as children. In April, immigration agents said they had identified more than 3,100 of these “fake families,” and that the practice was growing.

Indeed, right now in Tijuana, men from Haiti and Central America are trying to buy migrant children from single mothers so they can pose as their fathers and claim asylum in the United States. One woman, 44-year-old Antonia Portillo, says she’s afraid to let her sons, aged 10 and 8, out of her sight, and fears the offers to buy children—the going rate is reportedly $350—will eventually turn into demands or kidnappings. “They want to rob our kids so they can cross into the United States.”

It’s unclear what Democrats and liberal media outlets want to happen. Do they think everyone who crosses the border illegally and claims asylum should be released the same day, before we have any idea who they are or where they came from? What should be done with children who show up alone? Or with someone who isn’t their parent? Does the outraged left think there aren’t bad people willing to exploit a very real crisis, willing even to buy and sell children to take advantage of defective U.S. asylum law?

Here’s What Happens When a Child Crosses The Border

Federal law quite sensibly doesn’t allow immigration officials to turn migrant children loose in the street the day they arrive at the border. On the contrary, the law requires these agencies to determine quickly whether the kids are being trafficked, and if they’re traveling with an adult, whether the adult is their parent.

To do that takes time, and it takes even longer when border facilities are overflowing and thousands more migrants are coming in every day. Here’s what happens, generally speaking. If no parent is with the child, or if a parent can’t be located within a few hours, the child will be considered “unaccompanied,” and transferred from the custody of CBP to the Department of Health and Human Services’s Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Often, the child actually does have parents in the United States, and has traveled here to be reunited with them, who are often illegal immigrants. Under federal law, these children are not supposed to be “unaccompanied” because they have parents in the United States.

A recent report in The New York Times acknowledged as much, saying that the strain on the system had begun letting up in recent weeks, not just because Mexico had tightened security on its southern border but also because “the Department of Health and Human Services scaled back a policy requiring fingerprints from family members who applied to sponsor children in its care, speeding up the children’s release from government facilities. Many of those who apply to sponsor such children are undocumented themselves and unwilling to submit identifiers that could put them or their family members in danger of arrest and deportation.”

This is just one facet of a crisis that is now well out of control. The Trump administration didn’t cause it, and no policy or authority currently at its disposal will be able to end it. If there is blame to be apportioned for this mess, let’s lay it where it belongs: on lawmakers who refused for years, and still refuse, to reform our immigration laws and secure our border.

The weaknesses of our asylum regime, as much as our glaring inability to care for the large numbers of people crossing the border, are now apparent to a gaping world—and especially to all those who are willing to get here by whatever means available.