LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
And now we're going to hear from a defender of the Trump administration's controversial practice of separating families who enter the U.S. illegally at the border. Parents are taken into ICE custody while their children are sent to the Department of Health and Human Services. There have been multiple stories of parents losing contact with their kids - some young toddlers. Jessica Vaughan is the director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit that advocates for less immigration. Welcome to the program.
JESSICA VAUGHAN: Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: In your view, why do we need this family separation policy?
VAUGHAN: Well, there are no great options here. Because of the policies of the last few years, we've had more than 300,000 families and unaccompanied minors who've paid smugglers to bring them across. And most don't end up actually pursuing an asylum claim or any other claim that would allow them to stay. So the government needs to keep them in custody so that the immigration process can be completed. And their options are limited. They would rather keep families together in a family detention center. And that's what the policy was for a number of years until 2015, when a federal judge in California decided that kids could not be kept in custody and ordered the Obama administration to release the kids. And that has meant often that the parents had to be released also. The Trump administration has taken a different approach - in some cases, is holding the parents, and the kids are placed into HHS custody.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Critics of this policy - and there are many - first argue that this isn't actually a deterrent. People traveling with their children are often fleeing for their lives. They're threatened by gangs. And even with this policy in place, crossings are up. Here's Kay Andrade of Catholic Relief Services in El Salvador.
KAY ANDRADE: The risk of migration, even with all these barriers, is still less than staying here.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So one of the central arguments from the Trump administration is this is a deterrent, but it doesn't seem to be working.
VAUGHAN: Well, I think it's too early to tell. I mean, the zero tolerance policy has only been in effect for a few weeks. And I think it takes time for the message to get through. The reality is, too, is that if people really feel that they're in danger of their lives, Mexico has been offering people from Central America the opportunity to apply for asylum there. So we may see and already have seen a number of people decide that that's a better option than trying to make it all the way to the United States with the policies changing under President Trump.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. But Mexico, of course, has its own problem with drug violence and other issues. You know, reporting on this issue has shown that the Trump administration was trying not to draw attention to this practice at the border, that, actually, they were doing this for quite some time. But they weren't advertising it. And the only way it fully came to light was through the ACLU and journalists reporting on what was actually happening at the border. So if you're saying that the object is deterrence, then why were they trying to hide it?
VAUGHAN: We should not have a policy that encourages people to take this long journey that's dangerous and costly and pay a smuggler to try to bring them across illegally, only to arrive in the United States and join the illegal population. And what would be ideal would be for Congress to pass legislation that overrules the judge's decision that is forcing the government to release the kids and to modify our asylum system. And we should also help these other countries over the long term to improve conditions. But what we're doing now clearly is not working. And until prospective migrants in other countries realize that things have changed, they're going to continue to come. And so for the short term, we're going to have the situation where they're placed in custody.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center of Immigration Studies. Thank you very much.
VAUGHAN: Thank you very much.
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