Palestine Police Chief Andy Harvey, along with more than 40 other law enforcement leaders from around the country are urging President Donald Trump to consider alternatives to detention when it comes to migrant children.
“All we're saying is take a common sense approach,” Harvey told the Herald-Press Monday. “Some say we don't owe these people anything; we owe it to them to at least treat them like human beings.”
On Aug. 14, the Federal Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force, of which Harvey was chosen to be a member in May 2018, sent a letter to Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan. In the letter, the LEITF cited “possible unacceptable conditions for children in the custody of the federal government.”
Although stating an appreciation for the service of Department of Homeland Security personnel, as well as recognition of the challenges facing them at the border, LEITF said it also recognizes “our current immigration system is broken.”
The LEITF letter urges the Trump administration to reserve detention only for those who are a threat to public safety, and that the recent $4 billion in additional congressional-approved funding be used, in part, to provide remaining migrant children with appropriate care.
If the children are not treated appropriately, the letter states, those federal contractors and employees responsible should be held accountable.
“An unintended consequence of the mess our immigration system is in, is that law enforcement agencies everywhere lose legitimacy,” Harvey said. “Fewer people take us seriously when we are called upon to enforce standards of care that even the federal government cannot meet.”
Legitimacy and trust, Harvey said, are the backbone to effective policing – both, he said, are at risk with the current situation at the US southern border.
The LEITF suggests a “trauma-informed” approach when processing migrant children and their families. Rather than detaining children at taxpayer expense, thoroughly vetted minors would instead be released to sponsoring relatives, friends or even properly vetted churches or non-profit organizations.
Organizations and facilities tasked with the care of migrant children would also be held to state and federal guidelines for child-care, including safe and clean conditions, and adequate educational and recreational opportunities.
“It's a broad-based approach to immigration reform,” Harvey said. “These practices will start resolving the mess immigration has become, but they also take into account how federal practices affect policing at the local level all over the country.”
In addition to his work with the LEITF, Harvey has been chosen to join a coalition of business leaders, faith leaders, community leaders and politicians traveling to Honduras and El Paso in early September.
The only law enforcement leader chosen, Harvey will be representing both the LEITF and Palestine.
The trip, sponsored by the Center for Democracy, Harvey said, is to gain first-hand knowledge of the conditions in places like Honduras, as well as the conditions of the detention centers in El Paso.
“Coming from Palestine, I will also be able to provide a unique perspective,” he said. “I'll be able to illustrate how these problems are affecting small-town America, not just big cities and border towns.”
Although uncertain if the LEITF input will be considered in future immigration policies, Harvey remains hopeful.
“Maybe they'll listen to us,” he said. “We all want the same things: safe communities, and respect for the rule of law. Ours is just a common sense approach to the problem.”