Opinion: Crisis at the Border – by Yosef Stein

One of the most disturbing qualities of 21st-century politics is its unparalleled tendency to bring out the worst in people. As humans, we often get so caught up in our “team spirit” – the irrational insistences that our political party/favorite politician/commentator of choice must be in the right and that the other side must be in the wrong – that we often end up embracing inconsistent and nonsensical positions based not upon which policies are right and moral, but upon which politician or party is on which side of a given issue. Sometimes, we defend the indefensible and politicize issues that are in fact black-and-white, injecting copious doses of controversy into issues that should be entirely uncontroversial.

One such issue has come to a head within the last couple of weeks. Specifically, the federal government recently initiated the practice of separating parents from their children when families are apprehended attempting to illegally cross the Southern border. While these illegal immigrants await court hearings, during which many will request asylum in the United States, their children are stripped away from them and detained in separate facilities, in small cells walled in by wire (media outlets have compared these cells to cages). Some of these children are infants or disabled. (One child separated from his family is an 8-month-old baby who was taken from his mother’s arms. Another is a 10-year-old girl with Down Syndrome.) While the government has refused to divulge much information about the new policy, it’s been reported that border officials have told parents that their children were going to be bathed, fed and returned to them shortly – only to be shipped off to separate facilities while the parents spend anxious, miserable months awaiting hearings.

The administration’s new policy of separating children from their parents at the border has been met with scathing criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike, conservatives, liberals, moderates, and religious groups of all denominations – including both the OU and Agudath Israel of America. And yet, Trump’s most die-hard supporters refuse to recognize the obvious. They refuse to acknowledge the simple truth that no infant deserves to be stripped from his/her mother’s embrace; that no parent deserves to be kept from his/her child just for trying to find a better life in a country whose legal immigration system is completely broken; that those children and parents are every bit as human as every American parent and child; and that unnecessarily breaking families apart is immoral, cruel, and causes untold anguish and heartbreak. Instead of demonstrating compassion and recognizing that the president is doing something incredibly cruel and equally wrong, some feel the need to compare these forced family breakups to “summer camps” (courtesy of Trump acolyte and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham) or to justify the practice on the basis that immigrants are “destroying our culture” (a thinly-veiled dog whistle delivered by influential pro-Trump activist Charlie Kirk).

To be perfectly clear, this is a Trump administration policy – contrary to President Trump’s wildly ludicrous claim that “the Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda.” (The president did not elaborate on which specific legislative initiatives on the part of Democrats have caused his administration to tear families apart, particularly as Democrats’ legislative agenda has been utterly stymied with Republicans in full control of Washington.) There is no law that requires border patrol agents to detain parents and children separately – again, contrary to the president’s patently false, repeated claims that he is required by law to do so. It is a Trump administration policy which was implemented quite recently via a directive from the White House, and it is a policy which Trump could end with a single phone call, as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have pointed out. Some Trump supporters have suggested that previous presidents did the same, but this is yet another lie propagated by Team Trump. (While previous administrations detained unaccompanied minors at the border, they did not forcibly separate families that arrived together.)

There have been several instances in the past week when administration officials have gone off-message on this topic – presumably because they are confused by the administration’s insistence that it is required to break up families, a claim that is so demonstrably false. Jeff Sessions, the long-suffering attorney general, essentially admitted that it was up to the administration whether to separate detained families, referring to such separations as “choices” in remarks delivered Friday morning. Likewise, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen defended the wisdom of the policy on Monday – contradicting her earlier (false) statement on Twitter that “we do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.” The Trump administration’s family separation policy is so blatantly heartless that its officials feel the need to deny that the policy exists at all … at least some of the time.

Don’t get me wrong; illegal immigration is criminal and in some instances harmful. As a nation, we should have precisely zero tolerance for it. We need to secure our southern border. We need to build more fencing in areas that are difficult to constantly monitor. We need to fix our broken legal immigration system, improve the work and student visa programs (and beef up the enforcement thereof), and implement other commonsense reforms such as e-Verify. What we absolutely, unequivocally do NOT need to do is separate young children from their parents for months at a time when we can just as easily detain them together. We can keep our borders safe while keeping our humanity intact. We can demonstrate our resolve while also demonstrating our compassion. There is no rhyme, reason, or requirement that justifies the heinous policy being callously implemented by the Trump administration.

Tearing babies out of their mothers’ arms has nothing to do with conservatism or liberalism. It has nothing to do with support for or opposition to illegal immigration. It doesn’t even have anything to do with support for or opposition to President Trump. What it comes down to is good versus evil, compassionate kindness versus senseless cruelty.

Humanity is not partisan. Empathy is not controversial. Breaking up families, scarring children for life, striking terror and uncertainty into the hearts of parents – none of these are conservative values. Like the OU, Agudath Israel, and countless others from all walks of life, we must stand against cruelty even while maintaining our dearly-held, perhaps highly conservative, opinions about immigration. Because some things are more consequential than which political “teams” we may identify with.

Unfortunately, it is often a simple matter to trivialize the emotional trauma – torture, even – of those who are not just like us. Taking a moral stand on an issue of basic human decency can be a lot more challenging. When such issues arrive at the fore of the collective American consciousness, it can be far too easy to retreat to the all-too-familiar enclaves of political and cultural tribalism. But sacrificing our humanity for politics is never worth the price it demands of us. As Jews and as Americans, let’s be better than conservative or liberal. Let’s be compassionate human beings.

(TLS welcomes your opinions by submitting them to [email protected])

This content, and any other content on TLS, may not be republished or reproduced without prior permission from TLS. Copying or reproducing our content is both against the law and against Halacha. To inquire about using our content, including videos or photos, email us at [email protected].

Stay up to date with our news alerts by following us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

**Click here to join over 20,000 receiving our Whatsapp Status updates!**

**Click here to join the official TLS WhatsApp Community!**

Got a news tip? Email us at [email protected], Text 415-857-2667, or WhatsApp 609-661-8668.


  1. I cant believe your buying in to the medias propaganda, instead of getting your news from CNN, its time to listen to 770, mark Levin and Dr. Savage 2 very big balei kishrone that farshtei what’s going on and see through all the bogus liberal media !! and although the president did sign a executive order, that’s only to silence the left, but not b.c. he or the conservatives buy into these alligator tear stories.

  2. Hey, if you rob a bank with your kids, you will be separated from your kids as well, while you go to jail, your kids will go to a juvenile holding center. We didn’t kidnap their kids, they smuggled into this country illegally. Don’t break the low, don’t get separated!

  3. The author is the same one who wrote many articles about why Trump shouldn’t and won’t be President.

    The only change President Trump made was to prosecute adults who cross the border illegally for misdemeanors, something Obama did not do.

    This required the parents to be held briefly unail the hearing. Under normal circumstances, the hearing occurred and parents released, on the same day. Due to a court settlement in 2007, children can not be held with parents when they are being charged. Trump’s executive order today will likely be reversed by the courts, he knows that, but is counting on new legislation passing before his EO is reversed.

    As an aside 10k of the 12k children being held, did not cross the border with parents. Of the rest, many parents were guilty of previous crimes, including some with very serious criminal history.

    So blaming this on President Trump is a little disingenuous.

    By the way, how is President Rubio working out for you

  4. i don’t understand altogether why they don’t turn them back around and not let them in at all. the entire family. i feel bad for them but honestly, if we let them all in we won’t have a country anymore

      • my grandparents/great grandparents came to this country LEGALLY after waiting for many years. My greatgrandfather came legally and was her for 10 years alone making enough money to pay for the rest of the family and getting visa for them.
        and after they came the didn’t get ANY MONEY FROM THE GOVT.

        • My family also. Came through Ellis Island. My grandfather had a candy store in Philadelphia (didn’t speak english, and there weren’t many Greeks in that area at the time. All their kids became sole proprietors. I don’t know how they all did it. They owned restaurants, hair salons, etc, and did very well. All providing for their families. However, what’s happening now is very unamerican and cruel. Hearing the “little ones” crying out for their parents is heartbreaking.

  5. While I typically value your commentary, you got it all wrong this time. There IS in fact a law that prohibits children from being held in regular custody. So when an illegal immigrant family is detained, the children cannot be held together with the parents, as they need to be in a special kind of custody for children, while the parents are held in regular custody. Under Obama the same exact thing happened. Only now that its Trump is everyone making a ruckus.
    To prove that this is a law, why did Trump have to sign an executive order? You claimed he could stop it with a phone call. Obviously that was not the case.
    I’ll reiterate that you are an asset to political commentary in general, but in this case you are very wrong. (Listen to Ben Shapiro on this topic and you’ll get a better understanding of the ins and outs – and realize that you got this wrong. Perhaps you’ll write a follow up article correcting yourself.)
    I say all of the above will all due respect – you are good at what you do.

    • Firstly, thank you so much for your kind words and for taking the time both to read my article and to offer your thoughtful comments on the subject.

      As you state, there is in fact a legally binding settlement, stemming from the 1997 case Reno v. Flores, which provides guidelines concerning the detention of children. However, Flores does not prohibit the detainment of children with their parents. It stipulates that “[t]he INS shall place each detained minor in the least restrictive setting appropriate to the minor’s age and special needs.” This certainly does not suggest that we must or should strip young children from their parents — in fact, the implication is the precise opposite. There is an informative PolitiFact piece debunking the myth that Flores requires the detainment of children separately from their parents. (As an aside, if Flores did in fact require the breaking up of families, Trump would lack the Constitutional power to unravel the policy with an executive order.)

      As far as President Obama’s policies are concerned, I am neither capable of nor interested in defending them. However, the fact is that President Trump’s policy of wholesale family separation began in April 2018 and was not carried out by any previous president. (As for what happened in cases of drug smugglers or other hardened criminals crossing the border with children, they were surely separated. But that is not the issue at hand.)

      Finally, you mention that Trump’s executive order is evidence that he couldn’t have ended the policy with a phone call. I would beg to differ. Trump claimed for days that his hands were completely tied and that he was powerless to end the policy. He further argued that it wasn’t his administration’s policy. Reversing the policy with a call or memo would have proven both these assertions false and exposed him as a liar. It seems obvious to me that the executive order was an attempt to save face on the issue, so that he could still claim it was a matter of case law (which, again, he would not have been able to legally reverse even with an executive order).

      Let me reiterate my appreciation of your kind words and of your intelligent and nuanced comment. That said, I do stand by what I wrote in the article — and I am very glad the president chose to end this cruel policy, regardless of the manner in which he chose to do it.

      • Yosef, I want to thank you for your opinion piece. I cannot tell you how impressed I am with your thoughts concerning the state of the politics in our country, and the inhumane policy of separating immigrant children from their parents. For a person so young, you are quite insightful. I have been reading article after article about the recent events. Your words give me hope. And, you most certainly have a bright future ahead of you! Thank you again.

  6. This is really sad. As I’m reading about it I keep thinking of the families separated during ww2. Obviously no comparison because they were not trying to do anything illegal, but still my heart really goes out to them.

  7. Once again, the illusion of emotion and humanity has hurt your ability to present and analyze the facts.
    What Trump has changed from Obama is that border crossers are being prosecuted criminally whereas under Obama they were released without charges.
    Trump is correct that he’s enforcing the law. The laws on the books are that border crossers are criminals. There is a court decision that minors may not be held with their parents in criminal detention.
    So while this whole issue sounds incompassionate, Trump strict enforcement is what caused it.
    So while it may be fair to say that we should be compassionate, saying there is no such a law and calling Trump a liar, is dishonest.
    It’s ok to debate our need to be compassionate and other political differences, but the approach taken in this article is the approach of a desperate left.

  8. Thank you Yosef for some common sense. Some of the commentators seem to be very proud of how they spend all day listening to talk radio, getting Da’as Torah from Rush and Savage. They are no different than the people who get all their information from CNN, they get brainwashed, just the people get brainwashed to the right instead of to the left. The best think would be to turn off the radio, stay away from 770 and CNN, and start thinking for yourself

  9. From the reaction on the left to the executive order – here is such a quote: “While children will no longer be ripped from the arms of their parents for the sole purpose of deterring immigration, they will go to jail with their parents. Jail is never an appropriate place for a child.” – it seems that Trump’s hands are tied, and there is truly no choice other than releasing everyone, jailing everyone, or splitting up families.

  10. Sorry Yosef, but you will never convince the Trumpets. They will parrot whatever they haere Seam Hannity saying. Then they will come with their regular response about how bad Obama and Hillary are, which of course has nothing to do with the issue. As has been mentioned before by others, it’s time for all these people to get a detox from talk radio

  11. @Smokey Hannity: I don’t think that would be totally true. Lakewood is conservative because of our values. What you do have, though, is a decent amount people who spend too much time on talk radio, and correct, they would be liberal if 770 would be a liberal station.
    The proof of that is how quickly they defend Trump for his liberal policies, such as his trillion dollar budget, his anti-free trade stance, and his personal lack of morality. These Trumpets are the equivalent of the CNN watchers on the left, they spend all day watching left wing propaganda, while the Trumpets spend all day listening to right wing propoganda.
    These people make the most noise, but they are not the majority, the majority has more common sense.
    Remember, Trump did not ever get a majority of votes in the GOP primary (he got 44% of total vote) because most Republicans didnt want him, they only voted for him in the general election because it was a choice of him or Hillary. So I think most people, even among Republicans, are not Trumpets, and are willing to recognize when Trump is doing the wrong thing, the same way they praise him when he does the right thing.

  12. CHAS VESHOLOM! yidden becoming liberals? my rebbi Reb AVIGDOR MILLER always said, frum yidden must always vote conservative, as liberals support TOAIVAH

  13. What about the abusive parents who allow their kids knowing they could be taken away. Shouldnt they also be held accountable.

  14. @dov: first of all, disagreeing with Trump’s border policy doesn’t make one a liberal.
    But even sillier, supporting Trump is hard to justify if you are worried about Toaivah. Trump is as far from morality as you can get. At the GOP convention, he brought in his friend, the head of PayPal, who publicly announced to the crowd that he is a Baal Toeiva, and the Trumpets crowd there all cheered.
    Trump has probably brought the GOP farther away from true family values than any of the other candidates would have. No way would Cruz or Rubio, or even Jeb Bush have allowed someone to do that if it was their convention. When Trump was asked what he thought the definition of marriage is, he hemmed and hawed, said something about the “position of the GOP… But he himself would never stand up for morality, because he doesn’t practice it.
    When Trump won the primary, it spelled the end of morality in America. Had anyone else won, at least there would be a party fighting back against the left. Now there is no fight, because the leader of the party is not anyone who cam champion family values

  15. In ?Regards to Mr Stein’s Comment,

    You site PolitiFact in your last comment. For those who are unaware, PolitFact, is a heavy biased left wing blog, that poses as a unbiased fact-checker.

    PolitiFact, like Mr Stein, pointed to the fact that President Trump issued an executive order, as proof that he could have reversed the separation of families earlier. Yet in the same article, Politifact quoted U.C. Davis School of Law Professor Kevin Johnson, as saying that the courts will most likely overturn the executive order, so if that is the case, then the Presidents statement, that he can’t change the separation of families via executive order, is factually correct.

    If so, then why did the President issue the order, that is a good question, one which the president seemed to have brought up himself when he signed the bill. He asked the AG, to request an exemption from the courts from the Flores settlement, in order to keep families together, the aforementioned professor, and most others, believe that the court will not grant the exemption, and the executive order will be reversed by the courts.

    So why would the President issue an E.O. that will be reversed by the courts. The reason is because it buys him time. Until the courts overturn it, the E.O. will prevent families from being broken up, the president is hoping that before it is overturned, new legislation will be in place that would solve the issue permanently

    So the fact is the President could not make the necessary changes to keep families together through an E.O., but he issued one anyways to accomplish the desired results. I don’t think a President should issue an executive order, knowing it violates the law, but that is what happened.

    (The President cited the DACA E.O.) order as precedent, even though President Obama claimed often he could not grant DACA through E.O., eventually he did just that, it is still pending in some of the courts)

Comments are closed.