The Rhetorical Function of Family Separation and Family Reunification

I have been following this story and blogged about immigration several times (I provide links to some of those blogs in the present blog). I have been critical of some of Trump’s politics with respect to the immigration question (see, for example, Immigration and Nationalisms). At the same time, I advocate immigration restrictions and do so because my pro-worker politics demand this of me (I oppose globalization generally). Whatever we think about open borders or immigration restrictions, there’s something the media isn’t telling you about the more than five hundred children who have not been reunited with their parents: many of the parents don’t desire reunification; some even actively resist it. Truth can often sound cold, so I apologize for having to tell you this, but truth is more important than sparing your feelings. This is not a white lie situation.

Before getting to the dirty truth, I need to remind readers that a large proportion of the alleged family units coming across the border are not actual families. Early on in the migrant crisis, a pilot DNA testing program found that at least around one third of alleged families crossing the borders were not actual families; the children were not related to the presumed parents (The Interstate System and the Experience of Safe, Orderly Immigration). Here’s the way it works: either smugglers are paid to deliver children across the border, or economic migrants use children to manufacture the illusion of a family to create sympathy at the border. In the latter case, some of the actual parents sometimes compensated, but others are kidnapped. (The Situation at the Border and How to Respond to it.) President Trump was accurate when he said, “Children are brought here by coyotes and lots of bad people, cartels, and they’re brought here and it’s easy to use them to get into our country.”

But there are actual families crossing the border and who are illegally residing in the United States, and the United States has practiced family separation for many years. The practice was common during the Obama-Biden administration (Law Enforcement and Family Separation). With the respect to the children discussed during the final president debate, authorities often do locate their parents. In many cases, families have been reunited. The government is pursuing family reunification. There is an international effort to find families and reunite them. The search includes toll-free hotlines and teams working in the United States, Mexico, and the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. For those who have not yet been reunited, or during the process of facilitating reunification, investigators set up videos calls between the parents and the children. This is all documented. The suggestion that the Trump Administration is not trying to reunite families is untrue. Most families have been reunified.

Migrant parents separated from children since 2018 are reunited at LAX -  Los Angeles Times
One of several family reunifications

Progress in family reunification is the good news. Here’s the bad news: In many cases, parents don’t want to be reunited with their children. Many of these parents are poor and cannot afford their children. I realize it is hard for progressives to believe that there are parents in the world who don’t want their children, who see them as a burden to be pawned off on somebody else, but there are. Philippe Ariès’s landmark Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life, wherein he develops a thesis commonly known as “the discovery of childhood,” documents a long and uncomfortable history of child abandonment and infanticide that has only recently come to offend liberal sensibilities. For many throughout the world, these sensibilities are still being discovered. Other parents make the decision to leave their children for what they perceive is in the best interests of the children. As Tucker Carlson reported tonight, a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson says that in one lawsuit currently pending, the plaintiffs have been able to contact the parents of 485 children separated at the border and yet “they’ve yet to identify a single family that wants their child reunited with them in their country of origin.”

Often the parents chose to leave the country without their children. “Parents that did return home without their child did so after being provided an opportunity to have that child accompany them on the way home,” said Matthew Albence, who heads US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s removal operations. The unscrupulous are keenly aware of these sensibilities. Human traffickers and economic migrants exploit the humanitarian sensibilities of progressives in America to more successfully move to and abandon children in the United States. They are encouraged to do this by the network that organizes illegal immigration. While some parents plan to have their children live in the United States for the good of the children, who then become wards of the state. Many children are just pawns in grander criminal schemes.

Progressives are naive about the people crossing the border (PBS and Immigration Apologetics). It’s not just the running of contraband; human trafficking and child exploitation are huge problems. Economic migrants are brought across the border to work for criminal corporations throughout the United States. (What is the Relationship of Immigration to Crime? Immigration, Rule of Law, and the Peril of Ideology). To my southern comrades, have you ever wondered why, when you were growing up, black folks used to work in specific occupations of the split labor market, but that work is now being performed by Hispanic workers? Black people didn’t leave the South en masse. They still live in your towns and cities. In fact, during your lifetimes black Americans have been returning to the South because of the conditions in midwestern and northeastern urban centers. The reality is that thousands of black Americans have been disemployed by international migration, forced into idleness and poverty. It is well understood how devastating immigration has been for the black community. There is an irony here. Progressives talk about systemic racism. Maybe they should take a look at how their leaders have facilitated the replacement of black workers in key sectors by workers from Mexico and Central America.

The distortions, exaggerations, and lies progressives tell us about immigration has a purpose beyond smearing conservatives. It’s propaganda designed to keep open the flow of economic migrants coming to the United States so they can be exploited (a) for cheap labor; (b) to drive down the wage floor for all workers; and (c) to disrupt worker consciousness and disorganize class politics. With respect to (c) last piece, take a look at what happened to private sector union density over the last sixty or so years (The Immigration Situation). Multiculturalism is the ideological ruse covering the corporate economic strategy progressives advance.

Keep in mind that progressives work hand-in-hand with rightwing libertarians to push open border (Bernie Sanders Gets it on Open Borders Rhetoric—At Least He Did in 2015; Bernie Sanders, Immigration, and Progressivism). Progressives weaponize multiculturalism by redefining opposition to mass immigration as racism and xenophobia (The Attempt to Gaslight America Over Open Borders; Immigration, Deportation, and Reductio ad Hitlerum). This is why we see Joe Biden, one of the chief advocates for the economic policies devastating the working class, an open corporatist and globalist constantly accusing populist nationalists of racism and xenophobia. Hillary Clinton calls America’s native working class “deplorables.”

Biden said of Trump during the debate, “Abraham Lincoln here is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history. He pours fuel on every single racist fire. Every single one. He started off his campaign coming down the escalator saying he’s gonna get rid of those Mexican rapists. He’s banned Muslims because they’re Muslims. He has moved around and made everything worse across the board. He says to them about the ‘Poor Boys’ [sic], last time we were on stage here. He said, ‘I told him to stand down and stand ready’. Come on. This guy has a dog whistle about as big as a fog horn.” Leave aside that Trump’s remark about Mexican rapists and the ban on people from selected Muslim-majority countries are not examples of racism, or that the Proud Boys are not a racist organization (Antifa, the Proud Boys, and the Relative Scale of Violent Extremism), once you understand the interests Democrats represent, their antiracism is exposed as pro-corporate propaganda that harms the working class, especially the most vulnerable members of our society, citizens who are disproportionally black and brown.

Finally, I hope that every family who desires to be unified with their children can be found and those families reunited. If this happened to my family, I would move heaven and earth to find my children.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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