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Commentary / Family Talk: Defending our larger family

My adult son, Spencer, was home for a visit recently, so I asked him, “Got any good ideas for my Family Talk column?” He wryly replied, “Why don’t you deal with something noncontroversial like the government proposal to separate immigrant children from their parents?”

Hmmm. That is certainly not “noncontroversial,” and Spencer was not seriously suggesting the topic, but I thought it was a subject worth tackling.

In case you hadn’t heard, the federal Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly, recently confirmed that his department is considering separating children from their parents who attempt to illegally enter the country. In a recent interview, he told a reporter, "Yes, I'm considering that in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network,” referring to the path immigrants take to the United States. “It's more important to me to try to keep people off of this awful network."

Kelly is saying it’s more important to discourage illegal immigration than it is to keep families together. That sounds a little like posting a sign at the U.S. border: “Enter here at the risk of losing your kids.”

This parental separation idea was considered, briefly, by the previous administration but never implemented. Leon Fresco, a former official with the Department of Justice said, “It was too detrimental to the safety of the children to separate them from their parents.”

What do you think? Is it good public policy for our government to separate children from their parents when a family may be fleeing hunger, violence or political oppression in another country? Is it more important to discourage illegal immigration than it is to keep families together?

It’s never good policy, personal or governmental, to intentionally separate children from their parents. Sometimes individual circumstances necessitate it. A dad or mom may be sent overseas by the military. A job transfer might temporarily separate a parent and child. But to use disruption of the parent/child relationship as a government sponsored hammer of deterrence should make all of us take a deep breath.

A deep breath was taken by three current members of Congress who serve on the House Homeland Security Committee; they objected to the parent/child separation policy in a letter, saying, “Trying to ‘discourage’ people fleeing violence and extreme poverty from seeking safety in the U.S. by threatening to take their children away from them is unconscionable. ... We strongly urge you to reject this cruel and misguided policy. To do otherwise would be a black mark in the history of not just DHS, but of America.”

Barbara Bush once said, “Your success as a family and our success as a nation, depends not on what happens inside the White House, but on what happens inside your house.” True enough. But our success as a family and a nation is impacted by what happens inside the White House and inside our government.

While we should strive to always take care of our own families, we must also defend families everywhere by understanding how government policy impacts parents and children, and speaking out when we support or oppose those policies. Because we are, indeed, our brothers’ keeper and we live in a big family.

Jim Priest

Jim Priest is the CEO of Sunbeam Family Services, a 108-year-old nonprofit that provides a range of social services to support Oklahoma's most vulnerable people, including early childhood education, counseling, foster care and senior services. Jim... Read more ›

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