Today, the Biden “Task Force on the Reunification of Families” put out a nationwide call for suggestions on how to “minimize the separation of migrant parents and legal guardians and children.” In one sense, this is a media spectacle designed to generate tired orange-man-bad media coverage. The Zero Tolerance policy ended in 2018; shall we move on to governing the country?  

But in another sense, this call for suggestions reminds us that family separations are not unique to any one administration, or even unique to migrants. Any time a parent is put in jail for doing something illegal, like crossing the border outside a port of entry, a family separation occurs. It happens at the border, and it happens in your neighborhood; it happened during the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations. 

So how do we end family separations? Well, we could give all parents a free pass. You’re a murderer and crossed illegally? No jail. You’ve abused your children (and not just by smuggling them through Mexico through horrible conditions and grave danger)? No jail. Fentanyl smuggling? No jail. But this cure is worse than the disease. Criminals will have endless incentive to take a vulnerable innocent child with them to commit illegal activity. 

We could, I suppose, bring children to jail with their parents. But jails just aren’t equipped for children, and our laws have been built to protect against this sort of situation.

There’s only one reasonable way to end it. Stop the border crisis. Stop incentivizing families to cross illegally. Stop threatening children’s lives as they are packed into semi-trucks and driven through Mexico. 

The Biden administration has the tools to do this. “Remain in Mexico” allows asylum seekers to pursue their claims while waiting in Mexico, meaning families without legitimate asylum claims will stay home, knowing the free pass into the country is unlikely. The Biden administration could also improve refugee processing in Northern Triangle countries, a process the Trump administration started called “Safe Third Country.” This allows families to escape danger, but stay near their families and in comfortable cultural surroundings. An open U.S. border is not the answer. It will always result in humanitarian suffering, family separation included.