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Column by Mike Zagata, July 6, 2018

Is There No Way To

Stop Child Separations?

Mike Zagata

Most of us are the descendants of immigrants who legally entered the country via
Ellis Island.
As Americans, we should be proud that people want to come to our country. However, there are laws that control the rate of entry and processes to follow in adhering to those laws.
Today we’re besieged with a media blitz focused on the separation of children from adults caught entering illegally while they are subjected to our legal system.
Instead of jumping to the child separation issue, maybe we should stop and ask what it is that caused the separation, i.e. what are the adults
being processed for?
It turns out they have broken the law by illegally entering the country. Thus, it seems logical that any debate about immigration should begin there.
There are already at least two laws on the books that address these illegal border crossings, but they have, by several past presidents, largely been ignored.
Those presidents all took an oath to uphold the Constitution and laws of the land so they bear some of the responsibility for our current dilemma.
Congress passed the current laws and therefore they have the Constitutional authority to either amend them or pass new ones to address illegal immigration. Where is the media when it comes to asking Congress why it has been unwilling to fix the problem?
Now let’s address the topic of children being separated from their accompanying adults. Why did I say “adults” and not “parents”?
The answer is really quite simple – we have no easy way of determining if the adults are the actual parents of the children they are with.
We say that should be easy, and then are confronted with the fact that 50,000 people illegally cross the border each month. It takes months to do a background check on a U.S. citizen who was born here. We don’t have “months” to determine if the accompanying adults are the actual parents and if they have a criminal record.
However, we do have a legal process for deciding how to handle these illegal immigrants, but that process takes time. What do we do with the children in the meantime?
Do we put them in with other adults for whom we have no background information? Would doing so increase the likelihood of real child abuse?
Do we build, at taxpayer expense, holding facilities for the “families” – remember, there are 50,000 new ones each month. That would require a massive infrastructure to build and staffing it would be very expensive.
Do we simply put those caught illegally crossing the border on a bus and send them back – where is “back”?
Why not just release them at the border until their hearing date? That’s what’s been done in the past and about 80 percent don’t show up at the appointed court date. One could say they are the smart ones and soon after they blend into the overall population and the issue just goes away – or does it?

Because of our heritage and compassion, we all want those who wish to immigrate to our country to have the opportunity to do it legally. No one wants to see children entering a new country separated, even for a short time, from adults who may be their parents.
To address that concern, a broken immigration system needs to be fixed – not a tinkering, but a comprehensive overhaul.
If you, like me, want that done, please let your congressman and senator know that you understand it is them, not the President, who makes the laws and thus they have the power and responsibility to get it done.

Mike Zagata, a DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and a former environmental executive for Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.

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