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No freedom in America for children separated from parents

Under a new “zero-tolerance” policy announced in April, when parents with children enter the United States illegally, the adults are taken to jail for prosecution and their children are taken to live somewhere else — either with friends or relatives, if they can be located, or placed in foster care, if a home becomes available in an already overburdened foster care system — or in one of the makeshift centers now receiving so much attention.

As news reports have illustrated, some immigrant detention centers very much resemble jails — children are kept behind metal fencing, with foil sheets to use as blankets, and are allowed outside just two hours a day. Other reports have explained that children are being separated even when their parents request asylum through legal channels.

Separating young children from their parents is traumatic enough without subjecting them to these conditions as well. Add in the fact that many of these children have suffered trauma in their home countries already, and the U.S. has all the ingredients for the makings of a lasting national shame.

Montana’s congressional delegation, thankfully, offered a glimmer of hope this week with their united opposition to this unconscionable policy. All three said they do not support the practice of taking children away from their parents. Their stance on behalf of sanity and human decency should be recognized and applauded.

For the Republican members of Montana’s delegation, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, this opposition marked a rare break in support for President Trump. Daines united with the rest of the Republicans in the Senate Tuesday afternoon in a vow to end the practice of separating children from their parents.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, also followed up his words with action in the form of co-sponsoring a bill to reverse the new separation policy and keep families together. The Keeping Families Together Act now counts support from 38 Democrats and two Independents, but no Republicans.

This Thursday, Gianforte will have his own opportunity to back up his words, when the members of the House are expected to vote on two immigration measures. One of the bills, according to the latest draft available Tuesday morning, would allow those who were brought to the U.S. as children to pursue a path to citizenship, while also forking over $25 billion for the notorious border wall promised by President Trump. The other bill would only provide temporary legal status for DREAMers, and make other restrictions expected to result in a 25 percent reduction in legal immigration.

Trump was meeting with House Republicans Tuesday evening, and Gianforte has yet to say what, specifically, he will vote for in this fast-moving debate. Congress also has not said what action it will demand to return to their parents the 2,000 children who have been taken from them since April.

They must take action immediately.

There is no justification — ever — for traumatizing children. It is not what this country stands for, and on behalf of Montana, our representatives should not stand for it either.

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