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Why You Should Care About Kids Detained At The US Border

There are definite echoes of how we treated refugees trying to come to our country.

Right now, more than 2300 children are in American custody, separated from parents after their families tried crossing the Mexican border. It is an issue that has set a fire of moral outcry across the country.

While U.S. President Donald Trump seemingly ended his unpopular policy by signing an executive order earlier this week, it remains unclear if and how the government will reunite families.

Controversy erupted again on Friday when Melania Trump visited a Texas detention centre, boarding a plane while wearing a jacket reading "I don't really care, do u?"

The U.S. enacted a "zero tolerance" policy in May, meaning all those attempting to illegally enter America would be taken into detention.

That includes children, who have been taken from parents and kept in cages in sprawling concrete facilities.

WHAT IS GOING ON?

The policy has been criticised for months, but the firestorm truly ignited last week as disturbing images from inside facilities -- some former department stores like Walmart, crudely converted into makeshift prisons -- were published.

Pictures of children behind chain-link fencing, footage of kids crying, screaming, and begging for their parents have dominated news.

Even babies and toddlers were being detained in so-called "tender age shelters".

The backlash reached such fever pitch that, despite maintaining for weeks that only Congress could change the situation, Trump was forced on Thursday to sign an executive order Thursday to keep children with parents.

This is what you need to know.

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?

The Trump administration enacted a "zero tolerance" on illegal border crossings in May. Previously, these had not been met with harsh penalties. Attorney-General Jeff Sessions the change was about sending "a message to the world".

A secretive system of child holding facilities was quickly set up. Videos and photos have shown children in jail-like conditions, crying for parents. Audio captured by ProPublica shows children screaming, and guards joking.

WHAT IS TRUMP SAYING?

The Trump administration has tried to sidestep blame for detaining children, claiming the Obama and Bush administrations also separated children from parents.

However, Obama-era officials said the practise was never official policy, while Bush officials gave dispensations for children arriving with adults.

Trump claimed "criminals" use children to cross the border, and maintains the detention is "forced" on him by existing laws.

Other government officials say it is not a Trump policy specifically, and instead a legal necessity.

This argument seems to have been scuppered by Trump's executive order, which shows the president had the power after all.

Critics say no such law exists that compels the government to detain children, and the government could change this policy at any time.

WHAT ARE PEOPLE SAYING?

Criticism reached fever pitch over the past two weeks, as media, comedians and celebrities slammed the policy in the face of mounting, shocking evidence.

Religious groups called for urgent change.

Huge protests have been held nationwide, and a Facebook crowdfunding campaign raised $7.5 million.

WHY SHOULD AUSTRALIANS CARE?

While images from child detention are shocking, and eliciting dismay from Americans, this is nothing new for Australians. Children were detained in the Australian detention centre on Nauru, and other domestic facilities, for years.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

And that's why people should care -- because not only does the detention regime have uncomfortable parallels to our system, American officials are copying rationale directly from Australia, if not being directly inspired by our offshore detention scheme.

In a New York Times interview, presidential advisor Stephen Miller said anything other than zero tolerance would create a "perverse" incentive for people to enter illegally.

Sound familiar?

In the U.S., Miller also spoke of children as "loopholes" allowing people into America. Australian ministers have blocked New Zealand's offer to take Manus and Nauru refugees, and refused to bring sick refugees to Australia for treatment, on this very idea of a loophole to entry.

But one exchange has been pointed to by many Australians; the conversation between Trump and Turnbull last year, where the president praised Australia's mandatory detention for refugees.

TURNBULL: We said if you try to come to Australia by boat, even if we think you are the best person in the world, even if you are a Nobel Prize winning genius, we will not let you in. TRUMP: That is a good idea. We should do that too. You are worse than I am.

While this child detention is happening many thousands of kilometres away from Australia, it cannot be denied that it has echoes of how Australia treat those trying to come to our country