Walker urges Trump administration to stop splitting children from parents

Gov. Bill Walker has joined opponents of the Trump administration’s effort to separate illegal immigrant children from their families.

In a statement Tuesday, Walker called for an immediate halt to the practice.

“I understand that border security is a complicated policy discussion. However, frightening children by separating them from their parents in order to deter adult conduct is cruel and counter-productive. This policy should end today,” Walker wrote in a statement shared on social media. “Children belong with their families. Period.”

Walker’s statement follows remarks by Alaska’s Congressional delegation on Monday.

Austin Baird, a spokesman for the governor, said by email that the governor “spoke out about the Department of Homeland Security’s practice of separating families because he feels strongly that it says something about the values of everyone in our country, even those of us who are geographically far away from the Southwest border.”

Amid growing outcry over the policy, various state governors have withdrawn support for National Guard deployments along the American border with Mexico. Baird said the Alaska National Guard has not provided support, or been asked to provide support, for that effort.

The policy is a result of the Trump administration’s decision in April to prosecute anyone who doesn’t arrive at an appropriate port of entry to claim asylum. With adults detained and prosecution pending, any children accompanying the adults are taken away. More than 2,000 children have already been separated from their parents or guardians under the program.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, issued a strong statement against the policy on Monday.

“The time is now for the White House to end the cruel, tragic separations of families. They are not consistent with our values,” she wrote in a statement shared on social media. “If the administration does not fix this and fast, we in Congress must.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, did not call for an immediate end to the practice but said “no one wants to separate children from parents” and urged a Congressional solution.

“Going forward, we must work towards a legislative solution to allow immigration proceedings to be conducted much more rapidly without splitting up families,” he wrote in a statement provided Tuesday to the Empire.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said by email to the Empire on Tuesday that “the Congressman is sympathetic to the separation of families and remains committed to ensuring humane treatment of families that are in the process. He also believes it is possible to implement successful border security and enforce our laws while keeping families together. The Congressman believes there are practical solutions to avoid separating children during detention and looks forward to considering legislation that accommodates family unity.”

In a letter to the editor, Rosita Worl, president of Sealaska Heritage Institute, said Tuesday that the “issue is personal and resurrects old wounds” because it resembles the treatment of Alaska Natives by federal boarding schools.

“When I was six, a missionary kidnapped me in Petersburg and took me to an orphanage in Haines, where I was kept for three years apart from my family. I know first-hand the despair felt by children longing for their loved ones and the terror of being a child alone,” Worl wrote.

She asked that the administration “act immediately to stop this barbaric, inhumane act.”

Richard Peterson, president of the sovereign Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska government, offered similar thoughts.

“I think as Alaska Natives, as Tlingits and Haidas, this is an issue that hits really close to home for us. Even now it’s happening where children are being taken from families,” he said.

When Native children are placed by court proceedings in non-Native homes, they can lose connections to their heritage, he explained.

“To this day, we deal with the historic trauma caused by that,” he said. “In this day and age, we would hope for a more sensible and more thoughtful reaction rather than pulling babies from the arms of their parents.”

He said there’s a lot of rhetoric about the issue, but it doesn’t really matter.

“I don’t know who started it, but I know who can end it,” he said.

• Contact reporter James Brooks at jbrooks@juneauempire.com or 523-2258.

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