Mr. Trump’s Separation Policy and a Little Bit of History

In America, have we ever by policy rather than by law separated family members, including children, from other family members, while awaiting processing? The answer is yes, and we don’t need to go too far back in history.

Source: AMJoy.

Angel Island, the immigration station on San Francisco Bay, opened in 1910 to enforce the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, is where two hundred fifty thousand Chinese immigrants were processed. The average detention was two weeks, the longest was twenty-two months. Conditions on Angel Island were harsh, families were isolated, separated, and the interrogated. Detainees were questioned in great detail about who they were and why they were claiming the right to enter the United States. Those whose answers were unacceptable to the officers were denied admission. To prepare for the questions, immigrants often relied on coaching papers which contained details on the background of individuals who could legally claim American citizenship. Typically such papers were purchased as part of the package of tickets and information about entering the United States.

Source: KQED.

Note that as far as I can ascertain from my reading of the Chinese Exclusion Act, this particular method of processing was not written into law. It was merely the decision of authorities to implement it in this manner.

More discussion of the Chinese Exclusion Act here.

A 2-year-old Honduran girl cries as her mother is searched near the U.S.-Mexico border in McAllen, Tex., after they rafted across the Rio Grande. (John Moore/Getty Images) via WaPo.

73 thoughts on “Mr. Trump’s Separation Policy and a Little Bit of History

      1. Menzie Chinn Post author

        PeakTrader: I would say it’s been, and remains, highly restrictive. Does that make it alright that (1) the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, and (2) the current administration separates children from parents for people who are applying for asylum? From what you’ve written, I take it your answer is “yes”. My rejoinder would be that as Americans, we should seek to be better than the Chinese.

        1. PeakTrader

          Menzie Chinn, the U.S. allows more immigrants than any other nation and China allows fewer immigrants than any other nation. And, it wasn’t just the U.S. that treated immigrants worse a hundred years ago. Moreover, the Irish weren’t treated well in America either. However, a hundred years ago, there was no safety net – losing a job could be life threatening – the country was much poorer.

          Anyway, it may be a political ploy bringing illegal immigrants and their children to the U.S. to trigger an emotional response, like that wacko reporter at the press briefing.

        2. Moses Herzog

          It appears PeakIgnorance subscribes to the theory “two wrongs equals a right”. Either that or grown adults saying “tag!!! You’ve got the cooties now!!!

          Peak is also the type guy who probably thinks we should emulate sub-Saharan Africa’s inoculation policies, so. I don’t know Menzie, one side of me respects you for engaging with people and another part of me says you should give up.

          You’re going to always take flack (similar to Paul Krugman and some others) as an academic for “getting into the political muck”. But I think in the long-term people will respect you to an even greater degree, because you stood up to let your voice be heard, and weren’t afraid to call out immoral acts—especially immoral acts done on a grand scale. People forget that’s why tenure was created.

  1. noneconomist

    How about China? Japan? Canada? The Azores? Somalia?
    Seriously, PT? Your own principles(?) depend wholly on what others do? Every time I tried that–as a kid– my mother threatened bodily harm. I stopped when I was about 10.
    If you have to play the , “Well, look what (insert country here) card, as proof of the righteousness of your cause, you have no cause.

      1. noneconomist

        PT: the principles you lack are obvious.. it makes no sense for you to chatter on about China or, somehow, the immigration policies I support. Which you know nothing about but will blather on anyway. And chatter on, you will.
        It makes no sense to judge the past with 21st century values? What are you talking about?
        And you’re SO concerned about children’s safety. Give me a break.

        1. PeakTrader

          Noneconomist, it’s you, who lack principles. You don’t believe in immigration laws. You didn’t even mention children safety, till I did, and then gave a cynical response. Your “cause” seems to be judging the past by today’s standards and creating chaos.

          1. Menzie Chinn Post author

            PeakTrader: The law allows for people to seek asylum; in such cases, my understanding is that these people are not “breaking the law” as you say. If they are economic refugees, crossing the border is a misdemeanor. Does it strike you that separating children from their families is disproportionate to a misdemeanor.

          2. PeakTrader

            Menzie Chinn, if it’s only a misdemeanor, they should be released the same day and united with their children.

          3. Bruce Hall

            Menzie, because the review process took up to 2-1/2 years under Obama, the current DOJ has implemented a LIFO approach for reviewing cases. This has sped up the process to less than a week. Meanwhile, children separated from their parents during this review process are being kept in much more humane conditions than under the Obama administration. (link previously provided)

          4. noneconomist

            Oh yeah, PT, you”re very concerned with what’s best for children. Blather, Trump, blather, blather. You’re right in step with your political heroes—V. Putin comes to mind—who’d have no problems with similar actions.
            Then there are those Serbian war criminals who separated children and parents permanently. Great company you keep.

  2. Moses Herzog

    Malcolm Brabant is one of my favorite TV reporters, especially as it relates to Europe. Not the most telegenic guy, but you’ll end up knowing more about current affairs in Europe when he’s done doing any report he does. It’s “on the ground” reporting, not sitting in a studio grabbing stuff off the satellite feed.

  3. Moses Herzog

    List of best states to retire and sub-categories of quality of life

    Menzie, you still have time when you hang it up in Wisconsin U to migrate to Iowa. Taylor’s Maid Rite in Marshalltown Iowa is waiting for you:

    It’s been awhile since I ate there, but trust me, if they have kept to the tradition they had there when I was a young boy, Anthony Bourdain never had it so good.

  4. Moses Herzog

    Not terribly long ago, this would have been a scene from a movie. A movie such as Bryan Cranston’s “Trumbo” comes to mind. Now it’s real life:

    This is why we should support the arts with our wallet when we can:

    And support good journalism with our wallets when we can:

    We try to support good journalism when we can, I encourage others to PLEASE do likewise, as your personal situation allows:

  5. pgl

    Separating a child from a parent is just wrong. Any attempt to excuse such inhumane behavior is pathetic. And yea – I see someone desperate as usual to defend the racists in this White House. Go figure.

  6. Moses Herzog

    Curious if one of our brighter and beloved commenters in “Econbrowser” is in the 9th District and plans on voting for Adem Bunkeddeko on June 26th?? Enquiring minds want to know. OK, it’s a personal question but you seem relatively open about those things.

  7. Bruce Hall

    I received some emails on this subject. Two of the links were:

    1. yes, they are from right-wing sources
    2. they provide an opposing view to the idea that immigrants are simply seeking asylum
    3. the first one contrasts to the picture in this article

    You can discuss now who is moral, amoral, immoral, lawful, lawless. Question: if people from Central America are seeking asylum from violence, why are they not requesting that from Mexico where language, traditions, and customs are similar… and why is Mexico abetting their progress toward the U.S. border?

    1. Menzie Chinn Post author

      Bruce Hall: I have wondered about your question:

      Question: if people from Central America are seeking asylum from violence, why are they not requesting that from Mexico where language, traditions, and customs are similar… and why is Mexico abetting their progress toward the U.S. border?

      Indeed, the Chinese of the 19th and 20th century should’a gone to VietNam (then French IndoChina), or Japan, or Korea. Oh, I seem to recall something about Japanese occupation of Korea, and something about a puppet Japanese government of Manchukuo. But maybe you have a good answer.

      Indeed, I wonder about the Jews of the 1930s. Why didn’t they go to some friendlier place, more attuned to their cultures, etc. Poland, lets say. How’d that work out?

      I await your answers with anticipation.

      1. Bruce Hall

        Well, first of all, these “refugees” are not being driven out by invaders or their own government. I’d say that’s a significant qualitative difference. They are leaving by choice and ignoring U.S. laws by choice. Now, they may want to improve their economic lot and that’s fine. They could choose to seek that in Mexico (where they don’t have to learn a new language and have a climate that is essentially the same) through Mexico’s stringent immigration laws and process. Or they could choose to seek admittance to the U.S. through its immigration laws and process.

        So, this is not in any way comparable to the Jews in Nazi Germany or the Chinese after the Japanese invasion (or after the Communists took power in China). Your comment is a non-sequitur.

        1. Menzie Chinn Post author

          Bruce Hall: So, domestic repression (no war in Germany pre-1939; just Anschluss, und Sudetenland, und Krystallnacht) means not to worry. Genau, ich verstehen sie.

          By the way, consider the example of these “illegals” (in some people’s lexicon) of the past.

          1. Bruce Hall

            If you read the code (link previously provided), you’d see that government action against a specific group is a cause for granting refugee status. That would include being targeted as Jews for imprisonment.

            Seeking better economic conditions is not part of the code. For that, apply though normal immigration processes (which is what the Jews in Germany did before the overt actions against them by the government).
            (42) The term “refugee” means (A) any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, or (B) in such special circumstances as the President after appropriate consultation (as defined in section 1157(e) of this title) may specify, any person who is within the country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, within the country in which such person is habitually residing, and who is persecuted or who has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The term “refugee” does not include any person who ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. For purposes of determinations under this chapter, a person who has been forced to abort a pregnancy or to undergo involuntary sterilization, or who has been persecuted for failure or refusal to undergo such a procedure or for other resistance to a coercive population control program, shall be deemed to have been persecuted on account of political opinion, and a person who has a well founded fear that he or she will be forced to undergo such a procedure or subject to persecution for such failure, refusal, or resistance shall be deemed to have a well founded fear of persecution on account of political opinion.

            Now, as to actions of 90 years ago, are those acts still considered part of immigration code and legal? Perhaps we should discuss economics using 1930 standards.

          2. Menzie Chinn Post author

            Bruce Hall: So…before Wannsee conference, Jews should have applied for immigration per normal status. Only after Wannsee is it ok to apply as a refugee?

            And in any of these cases, is it justified to separate the families, including babies? That seems to be the implication of your comment.

            Thank you in advance for your responses to these specific questions.

          3. Menzie Chinn Post author

            Bruce Hall: By the way, even if it is perhaps legal under US code (but maybe not under the international conventions the US is currently a signatory to) to take children away from the rest of the family, you might ask yourself if it is morally right.

        2. Bruce Hall


          See section (42):
          Then see:

          Seeking to better one’s economic situation is not grounds for classification as a refugee. However, it is incentive to apply for legal entry into the U.S., especially when the U.S. president chooses to enforce national immigration laws which allows over 1 millions persons per year into the U.S. (last update I could find). Perhaps there would be greater public support for a refugee process if it was not being abused.

          Not so strangely, European countries have begun to recognize the need to control immigration also. You can do your own search (I’d limit it to the last month) on “europe defending itself against illegal migration”.

          1. Menzie Chinn Post author

            Bruce Hall: Well, the Jews fleeing Germany were seeking to improve their economic situation in the sense of not being thrown in a prison. But I also sense they would fit your definition of an asylum seeker. You did not answer my question of whether those people fit, though, explicitly. Should we have let the folks on the S.S. St. Louis in or not.

            You are right the Chinese migrants by and large in the 1880s were not motivated by political fears. What about those in the 1930’s? Keep in mind the Chinese Exclusion Act was only repealed in the mid-1940’s. (I haven’t mentioned the exclusion act pertaining to the Japanese and other “Mongoloid” races that were passed after the 1882 act). (By the way, I mentioned the Chinese because they were separated from their family members as a matter of course).

        3. pgl

          “first of all, these “refugees” are not being driven out by invaders or their own government.”

          You clearly have not been to Central America lately.

          1. Bruce Hall

            pgl, to the extent that such actions by the government of these migrants has threatened the safety of these people, they are being granted asylum. Seeking better economic conditions is not part of that.

            Now, if some are part of a civil war against the government, the fact that the government is threatening them may not be considered cause for refugee status in the U.S. . . If a migrant is an innocent bystander in war or persecution environment, refugee status is likely to be approved.

            Nothing is ever as simple as it first appears.

          2. pgl

            “to the extent that such actions by the government of these migrants has threatened the safety of these people, they are being granted asylum.”

            I see. These people who have fled because of safety concerns are being granted asylum after all so the press is just making all of this up. Good to know Bruce!

            Listen – either you are the most naive person ever or you are just insulting our intelligence here.

            BTW KellyAnne Conway has just upped the ante in your disinformation campaign:


    2. 2slugbaits

      Bruce Hall Determining whether or not those seeking asylum is IAW American law is something that is supposed to be determined in a judicial hearing. The articles you posted assume that asylum applications are automatically illegitimate and no hearing is required. It’s also interesting that I don’t recall conservative Republicans objecting to the automatic asylum status given to Cubans who made their way to American shores. And if you and your fellow conservatives believe current asylum law doesn’t cover a legitimate fear for one’s life, then why not propose a revised law? I’m pretty sure that if Trump asked his GOP Congress to pass such a law tomorrow morning it could be a signed done deal by lunchtime tomorrow. So do you favor amending the law to include fear of being killed?

      As to why they don’t seek asylum in Mexico, maybe it’s because Mexico isn’t able to provide protection. If they’re willing to risk separation from their children, violent rape and murder in order to cross into the US border, then maybe their reluctance to trust in Mexico’s legal system is well founded. Given the risks of traveling from Central America to the US border, my inclination is to assume a prima facie case for a well founded and deep fear for one’s life.

      Look, this was always going to be a difficult problem. It was a mess under Obama, but Trump has deliberately and callously turned a mess into a disaster. It was Trump who came up with the zero tolerance rule. It was Trump who cruelly put asylum determination under ICE rather than under the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is the agency who used to handle these cases going back many decades. Just because Trump can’t fix the problem doesn’t mean he is under some obligation to make the problem worse.

      BTW, what was the basis for Melania’s entry into this country? Was she more deserving than family fleeing rape and murder?

      1. baffling

        trump does not consider these as “people”. they are simply pawns in his negotiation. the damage he causes to them is not of any concern. trump supporters love that about him, as long as it is the “other people” who are getting hurt. but you will see, after 4 years of trump, some of those folks like the coal miners, will also be part of the carnage that is trump negotiations. but i am afraid most of those folks will be too blind to see what happened to them-that trump used them and discarded them.

    3. pgl

      “the first one contrasts to the picture in this article”.

      Wow the kid has a bed. You think this makes taking children away from their parents humane? Pathetic.

  8. baffling

    one must remember that peak trader is a silver spoon immigrant who got his free pass into the country, but now believes nobody below him deserves a similar opportunity. peak is really the type of immigrant who should not have been granted access to this great country. peak trader should be removed, as we should not permit racists into the country. he is elitist to boot. this would be an immigration policy i could certainly support.

    i love how the conservatives argue about the rule of law and zero tolerance, but then stand behind the showmanship of alice johnson’s clemency and the condemnation of zero tolerance policy! i guess zero tolerance and the rule of law is breakable when one desires to break it. interesting how most of the religious leadership appears to condemn the conservative interpretation of tearing apart families in the name of zero tolerance law. not something jesus would do. there certainly is a hot spot in hell for those using the bible to justify their assault on families and children. peaky and corev can get in line behind sessions and trump.

    1. pgl

      “peak trader is a silver spoon immigrant”

      Wasn’t Trump parents immigrants. Trump was certainly silver spooned!

  9. Bruce Hall

    No, the articles stated that the process for reviewing asylum claims in this administration has been modified to expedite review… and that the results of the reviews were that the vast majority of those claiming asylum did not fall under the criteria for asylum. We don’t have data since the “zero tolerance” policy went into effect, but for FY 2017 only 13,105 asylum applications out of 142,760, or 9 percent, were granted.

    We are not a country of “the laws are whatever make some of us feel good about ourselves.”

    See my responses to Menzie.

      1. baffling

        bruce, you should have stood up today in church ,on fathers day, and defended our policy of separating children from their fathers in the name of the law and the bible. shout it out loud and proud. jesus would be sooooo proud of your efforts.

          1. Moses Herzog

            Our panel of judges say that’s two 5-star comments back-to-back by baffling and Professor Chinn. That was like watching Matt Suhey throw a block for a Walter Payton touchdown.

        1. Bruce Hall

          If U.S. citizen parents are detained by police and no relatives are available, social services may take the children temporarily until the situation is resolved. Should the children go to jail with their parents?

          1. pgl

            Why are these parents being detained? They have committed no crimes. Unless being brown is criminal.

  10. 2slugbaits

    Bruce Hall Expediting the review process is a euphemism for automatic denial, and you know it. That was one of the reasons why Trump shifted the determination from the ORR to ICE.

    Still waiting to hear whether or not you’ve written your congress critter and the WH demanding a change in the law by tomorrow lunchtime. Your use of immoral laws reminds me of the lame excuses we used to hear for Jim Crow laws. Lots of crocodile tears but deep down you like the result. That makes you complicit. Of course, I’m sure you are fine with Melania entering the country.

    1. pgl

      And we thought PeakDishonesty was Trump’s #1 mouth piece. He is getting serious competition from Bruce Hall. Not even KellyAnne Conway can compete.

      1. Menzie Chinn Post author

        Bruce Hall: I was under the impression some bunch of folks called the Supreme Court gave authority to the president to prioritize enforcement of the immigration and asylum/refugee laws. Please correct me if I am wrong.

        1. Bruce Hall

          On a temporary basis. And each president may decide if the previous prioritization was an attempt to circumvent the legislation or prioritize it. It is obvious that Trump has decided that 12 million illegals might be enough and wants to shut that door as much as possible. Same thing is now happening in Europe. The thinking is that uncontrolled migration is invasion.

          1. Menzie Chinn Post author

            Bruce Hall: Ah, I see. “Illegals”. I think I now understand fully: it’s an invasion.
            No need to respond to my Wannsee query.

  11. 2slugbaits

    All should note that Bruce Hall is being deliberately dishonest here. Technically the people coming from Guatemala are not entitled to asylum status; however, they are entitled to refugee status if they meet one of several criteria, on of which includes:

    Is of special humanitarian concern to the United States

    Hard to argue that the Central Americans coming to the US border are not of special humanitarian concern. There is a catch. In order to appeal for admittance on refugee status you have to be physically outside of the US border. And what Trump did through an Executive Order was to effectively deny refugee status to people on the other side of the border seeking refugee status under the false flag of national security.
    That’s one reason why Trump shifted responsibility from the Office of Refugee & Relocation (ORR) to ICE. It meant people had to illegally enter the US (putting it under ICE) because they could not effectively apply outside the US border as required under refugee status. Since they were automatically denied refugee status they had to seek admission under a claim of asylum; but in order to do that they had to enter the US illegally. In other words, Trump engineered a Catch-22 situation.

    I noticed where Bruce Hall cited some article in a Federalist publication. One point of personal family shame is that my nephew is a constitution scholar/researcher with the Federalist Society. I don’t know what happened to him. He used to be such a well grounded young man.

    Here’s the ridiculous part. We have Attorney General Jeff Sessions pretending that people coming up from Central America somehow understand the intricacies and fine points of American refugee and asylum laws better than Fox News viewers, who clearly don’t. But then again, Jeff Sessions is a noted biblical scholar concerning St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. I wonder if Sessions would urge St. Paul’s followers to obey the Roman law that required all persons to sacrifice to Roman idols.

    1. pgl

      “All should note that Bruce Hall is being deliberately dishonest here.”

      Indeed. But do note he has dropped behind KellyAnne Conway today. He needs to up his game.

    2. Bruce Hall

      Hard to argue that the Central Americans coming to the US border are not of special humanitarian concern.

      The question is what is driving this “special humanitarian concern”. If the requirements for “asylum” are not met, can 1,000 or 5,000 or 50,000 people simple start trekking toward the U.S. and create their own “special humanitarian concern”? As a pointed out before, they have an opportunity to apply for help from the Mexican government, but choose not to. Perhaps because the Mexican government doesn’t consider their Hispanic, Spanish speaking neighbors the kind of people they want to help because they are already export them to the U.S. So, is being poor all that is necessary, in your opinion, to receive special consideration by the U.S. government? After all, there are a lot of poor people around the world who live in undesirable conditions. Do you send out the navy to pick them up since they can’t walk across the oceans?

      Congratulations to your nephew.

      1. 2slugbaits

        Bruce Hall I do not think you understand the problem. They cannot win asylum because they are not threatened because of their political views, but they should be able to win admission as refugees. The problem is that Trump’s Executive Order is designed to short-circuit that route. Trump’s EO is probably illegal, but in Trump World the law only works one…Trump’s way. BTW, many are fleeing MS-13 violence, which sounds like a good case for political asylum. MS-13 is a result of Reagan’s involvement in El Salvador’s civil war. But the real story here is that Trump and his cult followers really don’t want “those” people in this country, so any old excuse will do.

        You still haven’t explained to us why Melania was more deserving of admission to this country than people fleeing rape, murder and kidnapping. Let me guess…she’s an attractive white woman. I also note that Melania seems sympathetic to the refugees. Maybe it’s the guilt that someone with a normal moral compass would feel. Too bad her husband is a moral monster who adores dictators and strongmen.

  12. lyle

    All of this suggests that IMHO we help Mexico to build a wall on its southern border. Given the demographics of Mexico with a total fertility rate 2.24 very close to replacement, there will not be many surplus Mexicans wanting to emigrate soon. The total fertility rate further south is much higher. Mx rate is down from 6 in the 1960s so that is quite a drop. Also of course the Mexican southern border is far shorter than the southern us border. You will notice that the story is no longer about Mexicans but central Americans.
    ON a side note that talk about merit based systems, would give dreamers a fast track since presumably they speak english like a native, and have at least a hs eduation, with bachelors degrees and higher giving more point (using the canadian points system) Plus likley have us citizen relatives in younger siblings.

  13. PeakTrader

    Baffling, it’s amazing how much you lie about people.

    You make Trump look like a choirboy.

    1. baffling

      peak, are you upset because you are a racist, or elitist? or because you are a silver spoon immigrant? all are true. quit crying, snowflake.

      1. PeakTrader

        Baffling, everything you said about me is a lie.

        And, you call people political hacks – what a hypocrite.

        1. baffling

          no peak, i call you for what you are. you cannot change being an immigrant. but you can change being an elitist and racist. if you change your ways, i will not need to describe you in such dark terms. until then, snowflake, i will continue to call out your pathetic behavior over and over again.

          1. PeakTrader

            Baffling, I’m not an immigrant and the rest of your statement is also lies.

            You’re the snowflake here, a big flake.

          2. baffling

            you were brought to the us by your mother. you are an immigrant. and you are racist and elitist. deal with it, snowflake.

          3. baffling

            corev, if you and peaky could provide something we could add value to, would be happy to oblige. until that happens, i will continue to call out the idiots when they appear.

          4. baffling

            “Troll! Add some value.”
            as i said corev, if you could write something which we could add value to, i would be happy to oblige. what an idiot!

  14. EMichael

    Quite a collection of posters in here.

    The rest of the blogs I frequent owes a great deal to Menzie for detaining them and separating them from the rest of the internet.

Comments are closed.