President Trump’s executive order halting the separation of children from parents at the Mexican border leaves many unanswered questions, Professor Anil Kalhan said as a guest of WHYY’s Radio Times on June 21.
“It’s not entirely clear how this will actually play out,” Kalhan said, noting that an existing consent decree bars children from being detained by the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and requires those who are held to reside in minimally restrictive facilities licensed by the state to provide appropriate care. Just three state-licensed facilities for immigrant children exist in the U.S., including one in Berks County, Pennsylvania, Kalhan said.
The executive order Trump signed on June 20 requires families to be detained together by ICE, violating a decree issued by the courts in 2015 and potentially inviting lawsuits, Kalhan said.
“What seems more likely to happen is that they’re going to comply with the existing court orders and then go and try and litigate against that,” Kalhan said. “At that point, they could revert to what they’ve been doing for the last month if they chose to and just sort of blame the courts or blame Congress for not giving them other tools.”
Calling the prior policy of separating immigrant children from their parents “shocking,” Kalhan said many Trump administration claims about immigration deviate from the reality on the ground.
“The rhetoric around this administration’s immigration policies has been one of characterizing immigration flows as ‘out of control, we have this massive, growing undocumented problem and borders are out of control,’” Kalhan said. “That is at odds with fact. The number of undocumented immigrants in the un states has leveled off and being down for a number of years.”
Under existing domestic and international law, the U.S. has a legal obligation to protect refugees from the very kind of harms that many Central Americans are trying to escape, Kalhan said.
“At this point,” he said, “it now raises questions as to whether we are complying with our legal obligations.”