GUEST POST: When it Comes to Separating Families, Too Little Too Late

The past few weeks, the news has been dominated by heartbreaking images of children separated from their parents — many of them seeking asylum from horrendous conditions in their home countries — and thrown into detention centers on our southern border. Due to the immense public pressure put on the Trump administration, it seems like there is now movement away from the family separation policy, but as Bob Dylan once sang, “You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.”

Something seems broken in today’s Republican party. I’m not sure how someone could hear the sounds of children screaming for their mothers while being forced into a detention center, and not be moved to speak out against such a policy. Knowing that scene had been played out over 2,300 times and still have the ability to meet that news with a shrug, or say “there’s a lot of over dramatization” of crisis and compare the cages where children are being held to daycares and baseball fields like Congressman Kevin Cramer did, is beyond most people with a conscience. Despite the administration’s reversal of this policy, a former ICE Director has warned that some of these separations will be permanent because of gaps in the system. If North Dakota Republicans had their way, the cruel practice would have continued.

It’s no secret that Kevin Cramer has a hard time breaking with President Trump. We’ve seen how he has turned his back on North Dakota farmers and manufacturers on the administration’s trade war, but now he is turning his back on the thing he claims to put above all else: His values. Cramer is happy to tout himself as a “family values” champion while seeking the endorsement of a homophobic hate group, but when it comes to locking up children he has become a cheerleader for the administration’s cruelest actors, turning his back on faith and church leaders. There is no consistency there, just a stunning moral lapse and a massive stain on his record as our Congressman.

But it’s not just the Republicans our state has sent to Washington who have been willing to go along with this policy; the silence of our statewide elected officials has been disappointing as well.

Yesterday, the Attorneys General of 21 states sent a letter to Secretary Neilsen of the Department of Homeland Security demanding the zero-tolerance policy be ended not only because of its obvious immorality, but also on legal grounds citing “violation of children’s right, constitutional principles of due process and equal protection, and the efforts of state law enforcement officials to stop crime.” Given the fact that North Dakota’s Attorney General did not sign this letter, or otherwise send a similar message of his own to Secretary Neilsen, it is clear that Wayne Stenehjem would rather see those kids in detention centers, than to do the right thing, and act independently of the Republican party line.

In the face of such a staggering injustice, it is impossible to have faith those in government leaders who are allowing this painful situation to persist – where officials clearly have the discretionary authority to simply deny unqualifying families entry into the United states – without charging the adults with a misdemeanor crime and ripping their terrified children away from them. But the one ray of sunshine through the whole ordeal has been seeing how people from across the country came together to push back against the administration’s family separation policy. From Senator Heitkamp taking a leading role in Washington on down to average North Dakotans expressing their strenuous objection to a cruel policy being carried out in our names, that gives me hope.

David Clark Thompson is the Democratic-NPL candidate for North Dakota Attorney General. David is a North Dakota lawyer with over 30 years of experience advocating on behalf of his clients in a wide variety of civil and criminal cases in the federal and state trial and appellate courts. He lives in Grand Forks with his wife, Lynne.

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