Breaking families apart: The moral and economic costs to the US

Another passenger left behind a Spanish-language Christian newspaper on the seat beside me on a bus in Providence, R.I. Interspersed with homilies were words of advice to immigrants, “ensure your children have citizenship in your home country.”

This directive illustrates the real effects of a new proposal from Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly who said that adults crossing the U.S. border illegally could be placed in detention, separated immediately from their children, who would be transferred to foster care or to relatives who are legally in the U.S.

This is a policy that could affect the U.S. citizen children of 36,000 undocumented parents who enter the country each year. This approach presumes that separating children from mothers at the U.S. border will make the U.S. look strong on illegal immigration.

Yet it would do exactly the opposite. It will weaken the U.S. as a country because of serious– and unconsidered– moral, social and economic costs.

The spectacle of separating mothers and children is meant to communicate without a doubt the firmness of U.S. immigration enforcement. In theory, it would deter undocumented parents from attempting to cross the border with children in tow.

However, there are several problems with this illusory connection. Perhaps the most basic is that it just doesn’t work as a deterrent.

University of Michigan anthropologist Jason de Leon shows in his 2015 book, The Land of Open Graves, that the prevention through deterrence strategy doesn’t result in a decrease in attempts to cross, but rather, in greater suffering.

In other words, this policy is — at best — a misguided and failed attempt to deter migration, and — at worst — a deliberate strategy of torture.

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