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What we owe them: Migrant families deserve a speedy hearing of their asylum cases


Speed the migrant review fairly. (John Moore/Getty Images)

The Trump administration has proposed a new rule allowing indefinite detention of families seeking asylum.

Keeping parents and children together is far preferable to tearing them apart, as U.S. authorities cruelly and systematically did last year, often with no reunification plans. But if the government had a sane plan to deliver something approximating justice at the border, there would be be no need to hold anyone for extended periods of time.

Hundreds of thousands of families from parts south, especially from Central America, arrived at the United States’ doorstep seeking asylum this year, in numbers that dwarf those of previous years. The administration says claims in the last 10 months are more than three times the previous full-year record.

The United States does not owe all these people entry.

What it owes them under national and international law and common decency is a swift, fair assessment on whether or not they are likely to qualify for asylum — which is to say, whether they can demonstrate that they they are fleeing persecution or have a legitimate fear of being persecuted in their home countries.

If a family passes that initial test, it should be released into the American interior pending further hearings; the vast majority return for their court date. If a family fails that test, it should be deported.

But rather than design an infrastructure to manage the inflow for maximum efficiency, President Trump and his Department of Homeland Security have tried caterwauling and harumphing and threatening their way out of the problem, on the theory that the prospect of being held will discourage desperate-beyond-words migrants from trying their luck.

Meantime, Trump has impetuously cut off aid to the very countries fueling the influx, the most counterproductive move imaginable.

Mr. President, detain thyself.