This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Who Knew That Migration Could Get Even Messier?

Immigration to the United States has been a messy issue forever, as you know if you've read my book, or any of Professor Rubén Rumbaut's books--among many others who have traced this sordid history. Yes, we are a nation of immigrants, having stamped out nations of native Americans to get to that point. But let's face it, if you weren't white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) you were highly suspect, pretty much up to the point at which the 1965 Immigration Act was passed. If you watched the PBS American Experience episode on the Chinese Exclusion Act, you'll have a good feel for this. Once in the country, harassment of immigrants and their families is nothing new. The Japanese internment camps are among the worst of the examples, but the discrimination was aimed also at non-English speaking European immigrants. My mother-in-law was born in South Dakota in the 1920s to her Danish-immigrant farm-owning parents. She was the middle child of 12 kids, and the first one to grow up not learning Danish. Why? Because when she was very young the state of South Dakota passed a law making it illegal to speak anything but English in public. The Supreme Court ultimately tossed that out, but it worked in the sense that her parents stopped speaking Danish at home and my mother-in-law and her younger siblings grew up only with English.

I thought of all of these things (and many others, but this is just a blog post!) as I have read over the past several days about the horror stories of the U.S. government separating parents from their children upon a family's arrival at the border as undocumented immigrants. This is part of a "zero tolerance" policy implemented last month by the Trump administration. The Washington Post has a nicely detailed article that tries to summarize what's going on.
But none of these legal developments requires the Trump administration to separate children from their families. Instead, separations are rising in large part because of a “zero tolerance” policy implemented by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In April, Sessions directed prosecutors to charge as many illegal entry offenses as possible.
Devin O’Malley, a Justice Department spokesman, said in the May 29 briefing that people charged with these offenses often are sentenced to time served and transferred to the Department of Homeland Security for deportation.
So, on one hand, the Flores settlement and the TVPRA require that children be released. On the other, Sessions’s zero-tolerance policy subjects any accompanying parents to criminal prosecution and eventual deportation.
Laying this on Democrats does not track with reality. The TVPRA was signed by Bush, and the Flores settlement is a court-approved agreement, not a law. Nothing required the Trump administration to separate children from their families until Sessions’s zero-tolerance policy made it a practical necessity.
And this is only part of the story. The Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC, just today announced that they are going to be having a seminar on 12 June to discuss a forthcoming rule change by the Trump administration that could allow an immigrant to be deported for using government benefits like food stamps, even though they are legally entitled to those benefits. The bad old days aren't gone yet.

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