‘Separated’: ‘Frontline’ examines Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy

The great PBS documentary series “Frontline” premieres a new film tonight tackling the crisis of family separation created by President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy on unauthorized immigration. (But really, while “zero tolerance” might sound good to people who can disregard the humanity of its victims, it still doesn’t quite capture the cruelty of the policy briefly and unsuccessfully implemented. Separating children from parents and holding them various places in America doesn’t exactly keep them out of America, does it?)

Anyway, the Frontline is titled: “Separated: Children at the Border.”

The film’s heart is with the kids and parents who were separated, and we meet some of them. I’m angry and ashamed at the actions of our current incumbent and his team who imposed these inhumane policies.

But the film provides helpful context in understanding how the crisis arose and why it will be so hard to get to a better place that somehow reconciles the obvious pain caused to parents and especially small children by the Trump policy with the seemingly (but not really) basic concept that a country has some right to decide who gets to live legally within its boundaries. And the one-hour film, which airs at 9 p.m. tonight on KTCA Channel 2 in the Twin Cities (check your local listings), offers no answers to the daunting questions of exactly how to humanely decide who gets to live in a nice rich country like ours.

As someone in the film says, to those on the right no border enforcement policy is ever strong enough and to those on the left no policy is ever humanitarian enough. The film leans left, I’d say, because you see children suffering and parents who want only a better life for their kids (and certainly don’t want to be separated from them). But those who err on the side of enforcing the laws on who gets to come into America are allowed to speak, and I would say they are treated with respect.

There’s useful background in here. Given the current moment, it may be hard to recall (although the film reminds us) that critics of Barack Obama’s policies for stemming the flow of unauthorized migrants called him the “deporter in chief.”

Obama’s effort to find a balance was defeated by something called “The Flores settlement.” That refers to a legal ruling that the U.S. authorities cannot detain children for very long while working out the parents’ immigration issues. (It’s legal to detain the parents, but not the children.) Rather than separating the parents, Obama eventually complied with the ruling and allowed both the children and the parents to enter while their right to remain in the country was adjudicated, which led to some families disappearing, without legal status, into the underground economy and society. No easy answers – in fact, no answers – in this film.

Enter Trump and his build-the-wall or “we’re not gonna have a country” attitude. He orders an end to what he calls Obama’s policy of “catch and release.” Instead, the parents will be locked up, but the children, under the law of Flores, can stay. And then the question is how to care for them.

I won’t go into the legal problem any more deeply than that. My bleeding heart is with the children and the parents. I remind myself on a daily basis that my great American Dream life was given to me at birth as the result of my grandparents’ emigration from “the Old Country.” But I am aware that my sympathy for the plight of today’s immigrants or would-be immigrants doesn’t include a clever answer to the question of whether there is any limit on how many can come and how to decide whom.

The heartbreaking “Separated: Children at the Border” doesn’t pretend to have any answer to that question either. (Again, it airs at 9 tonight on KTCA Channel 2.)

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/31/2018 - 11:47 am.

    Apparently, The Republicans Have an Immigrant Phobia

    Democrats are not pro open borders as Republicans claim. Republicans are getting their info from a blatant liar, Trump. The Democrats are common sense immigration supporters just like Republicans used to be before the moderates were drummed out of the party. The entire Republican Party is now the Trump Party. The Trump Party is so fractured they can’t get any work done even though they have total control of the government. The Republican cowards in congress are so afraid of their leader they have gone silent. Trump was embarrassed by the results of his own dumbfoundingly stupid “Zero Tolerance Policy.” What Trump likes to do is create chaos, he sure did that, then let it fester before rushing in to claim he is the hero. Trump’s problem is this one blew up in his face on TV for all of America to see. I love the media that holds Trumps feet to the fire. Having been ordered by a judge to reunify the children with their parents the Republicans are having trouble doing so because of their lack of a coherent reunification plan in the beginning. If you go to a hospital the first thing you get is a wrist band with your pertinent info on it. This would have been an easy way to track parents and children. Republicans might be right about the immigrants becoming Democrats someday. After the treatment they have received from Trump and the Republicans what incentive have they been given to be a Republican. Trump’s ill-conceived “Zero Tolerance Policy” has done long term damage to the Trump Party. Trump, a low esteem bully, has struck again.

  2. Submitted by Misty Martin on 07/31/2018 - 11:54 am.

    Thank you, Eric.

    I’d like to see this special. I’ve been heartbroken ever since I’ve been seeing the images of children separated from their parents under this “zero-tolerance” law, though I suppose now, they are being held together.

    My heart also bleeds for these families, and I’m not sure what the answer is, but, I too, feel ashamed of the way that it has been handled by this present administration, and feel in my heart, that God would not approve, no matter how many evangelicals try to convince me otherwise. As a Christian myself, you can see that I am in a minority as so many other Christians support President Trump, no matter what he does. And no, I don’t know why.

    As I read about some more tax cuts to wealthy Americans, my conservative, “poor” friend, told me that the wealthy “already paid enough taxes”. I’d have to see the statistics, but this person was adamant enough about it, that I inquired: “Are you expecting to come into some sudden riches in the near future?” Because from my standpoint, this administration is not helping my income bracket one bit. And I do not care to fund a “wall” unless we enclose President Trump and his staff inside of it.

    • Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/31/2018 - 01:25 pm.

      I agree with you Misty.

      Jeff Session’s says the US is less hospitable to people of faith. I don’t believe the bible says to do what some of the “People of Faith” are doing with their politics. They can do all the bible quoting they want, but their actions must follow the words they speak, and they don’t. The bible doesn’t say to be or support a racist, misogynist, bigot, or a xenophobe.

      Trump blames the Democrats for not supporting the wall. It is Trump’s idea, which 60% of America is against, and it is the responsibility of those fiscally responsible, deficit hawk Republicans in congress to pass it if it is such a good idea. Trump doesn’t need the Democrats.

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 07/31/2018 - 03:06 pm.

    It wasn’t just Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions who did this awful thing, knowing that it was inhumane, unChristian, unnecessary and unAmerican.

    It was the Republican Party, and we should remember that when we vote this November, and in 2020.

  4. Submitted by Misty Martin on 08/01/2018 - 06:51 am.

    I watched Frontline last night, and it was heartbreaking.

    It was heartbreaking to see those children cry and one little girl said she was told that she would never see her mother again. Whether she really was told that by the agents or she misunderstood is not the issue – she suffered real emotional damage from being separated from her mother, and now that she is with her mom again, they both agree that she is not the happy-go-lucky little girl she was before the separation. These people are so desperate! The conditions in their countries are beyond appalling, and I believe that if I were in their shoes (and it could be me, except by the Grace of God) I would do anything within my power to rescue my child and seek a better life for him/her.

    And did anyone see the exchange between the reporter and Thomas Homan, ICE’s executive associate director of enforcement and removal operations? What a cold fish! He fits right in, doesn’t he, with President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions? God help them and God help us. The country should NOT vote for these people again in the next election.

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