Here's a simple concept: "Parents who enter illegally are by definition criminals."
That's what Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told reporters in an evening briefing at the White House on Monday.
Still confused? Nielsen explained. "Illegal entry is a crime as determined by Congress. By entering our country illegally, often in dangerous circumstances, illegal immigrants have put their children at risk."
Yes, it's that simple. If you are not a citizen of the United States and you enter the country illegally, you are a criminal. That means you go to jail. If you have children with you, they don't go with you, but rather — just as in any other criminal case — they go into care with government officials.
Example: A mother with two children gets pulled over for erratic driving. In the back seat, two children. After a field sobriety test, it's determined the mother is drunk. She's arrested and taken to jail, but she doesn't get to keep her children with her. She's been charged with a crime — made more serious by the fact that she was endangering the lives of her children. So her maternal rights are shut off right there, at that instant.
The same goes for those entering the United States illegally. They've broken the law — and what's more, they're not even American citizens. That drunk mother has rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution, but those Central Americans sneaking across the border do not.
So what's happening at the border right now? Nielsen explained again:
"What has changed is that we no longer exempt entire classes of people who break the law. Everyone is subject to prosecution. When DHS refers a case against a parent or legal guardian for criminal prosecution, the parent or legal guardian will be placed into the U.S. Marshals Service custody for pretrial determination, pursuant to an order by a federal judge. And any accompanied child will be transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services and will be reclassified as an unaccompanied alien child. That is in accordance with the TVPRA — a law that was passed by Congress — and a following court order, neither which are actions the Trump administration has taken."
Yes, that's right, the border patrol is simply enforcing laws that have long been on the books, laws with lineage stretching back through Barack Obama and George W. Bush all the way to Bill Clinton. These aren't new laws, what's new is their actual enforcement.
So now, when adults illegally enter the United States, they are prosecuted. But as Nielsen says, there are strict guidelines set up to protect the children.
"As I mentioned, [the Department of Homeland Security] does have a responsibility to protect minors. And in that case, as well, we will only separate the family if we cannot determine there is a familiar relationship, if the child may be at risk with the parent or legal guardian, or if the parent or legal guardian is referred for prosecution," Nielsen said.
But her department also has a responsibility to U.S. citizens.
"We have a duty to protect the American people, and it's one that I take very seriously. Here is the bottom line: DHS is no longer ignoring the law. We are enforcing the laws as they exist on the books. As long as illegal entry remains a criminal offense, DHS will not look the other way. DHS will faithfully execute the laws enacted by Congress, as we are sworn to do," she said.
Of course, there's more than meets the eye in the border brouhaha (as there often is). Nielsen on Monday said that some "well-coached" people illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border are using children to pose as families to gain entry.
"From October 2017 to this February, we have seen a staggering 315% increase in illegal aliens fraudulently using children to pose as family units to gain entry into the country," she told the annual National Association of Sheriffs meeting in New Orleans. "This must stop. All this does is put the children at risk."
At the White House, Nielsen said that adults charged with crimes can't just simply keep their children.
"For example, if there's no documentation to confirm the claimed relationship between an adult and a child, we do so if the parent is a national security, public or safety risk, including when there are criminal charges at issue and it may not be appropriate to maintain the family in detention together," she said.
It's all pretty simple, really. And there's an easy fix: If you're not a U.S. citizen, don't enter the United States illegally — with or without children. If you do, you'll be arrested, and having children with you won't change that. "Parents who enter illegally are by definition criminals."