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The Separation of Immigrant Families, Abu Ghraib and a Policy Failure

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By Alison G. S. Knox
Special Contributor, In Homeland Security

The notion of a policy can seem simple to those who take a quick glance at it, but policies are anything but simple. In fact, many policies are complicated by their overall design and execution.

For a policy to work effectively, it needs to be designed well and have a bureaucratic structure to support it. The policy must match society’s wants and needs, as well as being effectively understood and executed by the administrative stakeholders involved with it.

Policy Failure Occurs at Southern US Border

Recently, Americans witnessed a policy failure involving separating children from their immigrant parents at the southern U.S. border. Many Americans were outraged by the situation, which appeared to be particularly unfair and cruel to children. This policy is also reminiscent of other failed policies that the United States has seen in recent decades.

Policies often fail because they’re mishandled by an administration that cannot effectively support the mission or goals of the policy. The United States saw this recently with the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq during the Iraq War. There are a few intriguing similarities between Abu Ghraib and the recent immigration policy introduced by the current administration.

US Bureaucratic Structure Could Not Cope with Thousands of Detainees

For a policy to be well designed and executed, it needs to have a bureaucratic system in place to completely support it. Without doing so, policies may become bottlenecks creating numerous other issues in society. Regarding the policy failure of separating immigrant children at the border from their families, the policy was certainly meant as a deterrent to keep immigrants from coming to the United States illegally.

However, detaining these people appeared to create a bottleneck. It appears that there isn’t a real plan for how to take care of a large influx of people or for returning children to their families.

This failed policy was not designed well. It has created numerous bureaucratic problems for border security agents, who now have to figure out what to do with this influx of people.

Similarities with Abu Ghraib

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that Americans have seen a serious problem with an influx of people without a really strong bureaucracy to handle such matters. During the Iraq War, for example, prisoners were sent to Abu Ghraib without any real plan of leaving the prison facility.

Slowly but surely, the Army became ill-equipped to handle the influx of people. Shortly thereafter, problems with managing the prisoners started. The situation eventually led to numerous human rights violations for the prisoners.

Amid increasing pressure from the general public, President Trump signed an Executive Order ending the separation of families at the border. However, the New York Times reports that thousands remain apart, demonstrating the logistical issues that remain from this policy failure.

Hastily Designed Political Policies Can Backfire

It is difficult to quickly design political policies that will work well at all levels of analysis and for all people in a society. But hastily designed policies can have numerous negative effects on a community, creating numerous and potentially unforeseeable issues that need to be corrected.

Moving forward, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will need to create systematic plans for returning families. DHS will need to find a way of moving families back to their country of origin without creating more bureaucratic nightmares or scaring children for life.

About the Author

An emergency medical technician and a political scientist, Allison focuses on emergency management and emergency medical services policy. Allison has taught at the undergraduate level since 2010. Prior to teaching, Allison worked in a level-one trauma center emergency department and for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. She holds four master’s degrees in Emergency Management, National Security Studies, International Relations and History, as well as a Graduate Certificate in Homeland Security and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. She serves on the Board of Trustees for Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society and also serves as the Advocacy Coordinator of Virginia for the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians.

Glynn Cosker is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. In addition to his background in journalism, corporate writing, web and content development, Glynn served as Vice Consul in the Consular Section of the British Embassy located in Washington, D.C. Glynn is located in New England.

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