Alan Dershowitz: Mr. President, please end the policy of separating children from parents

The image of a child being taken out of the arms of its mother cannot help but generate an emotional reaction.  This reaction has caused exaggeration on both sides.  Some opponents of the policy compare it to the Holocaust, equating detention centers with concentration and death camps.  Though well intentioned, this comparison is a form of Holocaust denial, because it makes it seem that the Jews suffered no fate worse than those currently suffered by the children being temporarily removed from their parents.

On the other side, we see efforts to paint the detention centers as paradises for the children, with good medical care, clean rooms and child friendly atmosphere.

Both exaggerations miss the central point: the very act of separating a young child from his or her parent can be deeply traumatic, even if the separation is only temporary.  The parent may be at fault for using the child to facilitate law breaking, but it is the child who bears the brunt of the separation.  The child is an innocent victim of a bad policy.

Nor is this policy justified by the observation that children are always separated from their parents when the parents are arrested for any crime. Most minor crimes, such as the ones at the border, are immediately bailable and the parent comes home.  If he or she is ultimately convicted, the other parent or guardian can generally take over.  There is time to plan for such an eventuality. With the border cases, the child is immediately separated from the parent, and the parent may remain confined for long periods of time.

It is  debatable whether this general border policy is entirely the fault of this administration, or goes back to earlier administrations.  But that too, misses the point.  Right now, this administration is allowing young children to be taken away from their arrested parents.  The more important point is that President Trump, with one phone call or one signature, can stop the separation of children and parents right now – today.

Supporters of the policy claim that the president does not have this power.  They are wrong.  The president is the chief executive officer of the U.S. with the constitutional authority to see that the laws are properly executed.  As President Harry Truman once put it: “The buck stops here.”

And so, Mr. President, I urge you to do the right thing: to order that no child will be taken from a parent for even one moment.  Devise better methods of dealing with the problem.  But right now, end the policy that separates children from parents. You can do it.  You should do it.  You must do it.  Don’t let nay sayers try to persuade you that you lack the authority to do it.  As the ad says: Just do it.

Mr. President, I have defended your civil liberties and will continue to do so, because I believe in civil liberties for all people. Civil liberties does not end at the entrance of the Oval Office, nor does it end at the entrance to America, at its borders.

Mr. President, I have defended your civil liberties and will continue to do so, because I believe in civil liberties for all people.  Civil liberties does not end at the entrance of the Oval Office, nor does it end at the entrance to America, at its borders.  Basic decency requires that we recognize the traumatic impact separation can have on innocent children.  Please end that policy now.

The Child Separation policy is being challenged in the courts, but court cases take time and results are generally uncertain.  Please don’t let court cases become an excuse for inaction.  Mr. President, you are proud of your reputation as a man of action.  It is your responsibility to end the suffering of these children now, because it is the right thing to do.  It may not be a perfect solution to the general problem, but perfect is the enemy of good, especially when it comes to complex issues such as immigration, for which there will never be a perfect solution. 

So please Mr. President, help these children.  Stop allowing them to be hurt and end the policy of separating children from parents today.

Alan M. Dershowitz is Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus, at Harvard Law School and author of, "Trumped Up! How Criminalization of Political Differences Endangers Democracy," which is now available. Follow Alan Dershowitz on Twitter: @AlanDersh Facebook: @AlanMDershowitz.