A young demonstrator wears a sign during a protest against the Trump administration’s policy on separating immigrant families in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Toya Sarno Jordan/Bloomberg)

Trump Hasn’t Fixed the Border Crisis He Created

(The Bloomberg View) -- The Trump administration claims that it has mostly met a court-ordered deadline to reunite migrant families separated at the border. Even to the extent that’s true, this is a story without happy endings.

More than 700 of the nearly 3,000 children originally separated from family members remain in government hands, either because their parents have already been deported or they have failed criminal background or parental verification checks. Many of those deported parents seem to have been deceived into agreeing to leave without their kids. And even those children back in their parents’ arms will bear psychological scars from what the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics has called “government-sanctioned child abuse.”

This policy rightfully drew global condemnation for its inhumanity. But the almost willful incompetence of its execution is also worth examining. After all, it should be possible to protect America’s borders without trampling cherished values or wasting taxpayer dollars.

For starters, this crisis could easily have been avoided. Attorney General Jeff Sessions unnecessarily introduced his draconian policy of detaining and criminally prosecuting everyone — including asylum seekers — caught trying to cross illegally into the U.S. at a time when apprehensions at the southwestern border are at historic lows.

He went ahead in full knowledge of both the number of family units illegally crossing the border, and the U.S. laws and court rulings that would govern their treatment if they were taken into custody. The already huge backlog of cases clogging immigration courts was also a matter of public record, as were the travails of the Obama administration in handling the detention of unaccompanied minors and family units during a previous surge and crackdown.

Nevertheless, as soon as Sessions changed the border policy, the government found itself in a mad scramble. To deal with all the children suddenly on their own, the Department of Health and Human Services had to house them in whatever “influx shelters” they could arrange, often at the cost of hundreds of dollars per child per night. Tens of millions of dollars in funds had to be shifted from other social programs; rising caseloads diverted federal prosecutors from going after drug smugglers; the Pentagon was called on to provide lawyers and house children at military bases.

Under pressure from the courts and a public outcry, the administration has moved away from the blanket criminal prosecutions that resulted in family separations. If its goal was to protect the border and make sure migrants showed up in court, civil proceedings still offer plenty of saner, cheaper and more humane alternatives. And even Immigration and Customs Enforcement notes that alternatives to detention work; better an ankle bracelet at $4.50 a day than tent cities at $775 per night.

The Trump administration needs to finish cleaning up the mess it’s made. Seven hundred children can’t be left in limbo; they need to be speedily reunited with family members in the U.S. or at home. The inspectors general of the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and Health and Human Services must conduct prompt and thorough investigations, including of charges that Homeland Security may have lost or destroyed records linking children to their parents. Congress has a responsibility to push past executive branch stonewalling on the origins and cost of the crisis and exercise effective oversight.

The administration claims that its hardline policies deter would-be border-crossers. But the evidence from earlier efforts at family detention shows that they don’t. This crisis has only sown misery and chaos — and further delayed a badly needed national discussion about comprehensive immigration reform.

Editorials are written by the Bloomberg View editorial board.

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