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In our opinion: Border battles must put children and families first

In this June 13, 2018 photo, Nicole Hernandez, of the Mexican state of Guerrero, holds on to her mother as they wait with other families to request political asylum in the United States, across the border in Tijuana, Mexico. The family has waited for abou
In this June 13, 2018 photo, Nicole Hernandez, of the Mexican state of Guerrero, holds on to her mother as they wait with other families to request political asylum in the United States, across the border in Tijuana, Mexico. The family has waited for about a week in this Mexican border city, hoping for a chance to escape widespread violence in their home state.
Gregory Bull, AP

The rule of law is not inherently incompatible with compassion. Unfortunately, the nation’s current political climate is sending the opposite message and presenting Americans with a false choice.

The Trump administration’s practice of separating children from parents at border crossings — with toddlers screaming and mothers crying — is cruel and potentially dangerous. It may have long-term consequences, traumatizing children who might grow up with emotional and mental health issues as well as hatred toward the United States. It certainly has immediate consequences and speaks ill of a nation that ought to embrace family values.

It doesn’t have to be so.

We urge President Trump to immediately call a temporary halt to this practice and to give Congress a short deadline — two or three weeks — to pass a law that institutes a more humane system.

Only by working together as Americans, not as Republicans or Democrats, can immigration issues be solved in a way that both secures the nation’s borders and preserves the notion of human decency and dignity.

For that to happen, the political rhetoric must subside on both sides. It requires a frank discussion about many of the complications surrounding illegal border crossing.

One complication has to do with asylum seekers. A court decision 20 years ago puts a 20-day limit on how long unaccompanied minors and children who cross the border with their families may be held in custody.

But asylum claims, in which immigrants try to demonstrate that returning to their home countries would be unsafe, take longer than this to adjudicate. Estimates put the enormous backlog of asylum cases in the hundreds of thousands, with no clear path forward.

Another complication has to do with a lack of resources to handle the influx of families at the border, and particularly those claiming asylum.

Congress is expected to consider two bills this week. Neither one would satisfactorily end this problem. One, a “compromise” measure called the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act, would allow a path to citizenship for so-called Dreamers — the children of undocumented immigrants who demonstrate attributes of good citizenship. It isn’t clear, however, whether it would end the separation of families at the border. It also would make it harder to qualify for asylum.

The other, sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., is a more conservative measure that would provide Dreamers with a temporary status, but not a path to citizenship. It would mandate an E-Verify system to check the status of every new employee, and it would allow the Justice Department to withhold grants from sanctuary cities.

Both bills contain funding for a border wall. Goodlatte’s bill has yet to receive enough Republican support to ensure passage.

Clearly, compromises are needed, and that may include funding for the wall. The president needs to be flexible on this. The situation involving children at the border demands immediate attention, and whatever passes must address this, as well.

In any case, President Trump has the power to immediately end these cruel separations, and he has the political leverage to demand Congress find a solution. He must do both immediately.

His insistence on blaming Democrats for passing a law requiring familial separation is misleading and counterproductive. The law and federal court decisions require the government to give protection to families and asylum seekers. The Trump administration instead has implemented a policy to send many of these to federal court for prosecution, where parents and children must be separated.

Democrats have also exacerbated the problem with a willingness to weaponize the plight of immigrants as a midterm election year wedge issue. All members of Congress sound hypocritical and out of touch. They hold the power and can change what is happening.

Americans cannot accept the gridlock, excuses and finger-pointing by Congress and the administration. Voters should call on their members of Congress to engage on this issue and solve our nation’s broken immigration system.

Surely, the United States — a beacon of liberty to the world — can find a humane and compassionate way to deal with people who, for whatever reason, are crossing the Southern border.