It’s been an extraordinary two weeks observing Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions crafting and then executing an immigration policy referred as zero tolerance, its intended outcome being to separate families criminally charged with entering the U.S. illegally from their children.
No rationale can justify or excuse this humanitarian train wreck. But, of course, Trump/Sessions tried. Rejecting the accusation that this policy was conceived as a deterrent, aimed at the heart of those parents with children who began their desperate journey from the Northern Triangle in Central America (Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador), Sessions quoted the Bible, Romans 13. This is the same scripture once used to justify slavery.
Trump created the surreal fantasy that our southern border is in crisis, overrun by illegals, traffickers, rapists, smugglers of children who are nascent recruits for MS-13, a Los Angeles based gang, exported to Central America, only to return with a vengeance to the U.S. Be afraid of these people, arriving at our border, fraudulently requesting asylum, for they are purveyors of crime. For good measure, Trump goes on to insist that it’s the “obstructionist” Democrats that want “open borders,” allowing “others” to stream in. He has referred to these migrants as “vermin,” an infestation in the millions, and wants a “merit-based” system. Perhaps techies from Scandinavia.
But what Sessions and Trump soon discovered is that they could not overcome the images of children alone, without their mothers, detained in big box holding centers, sitting in wire cages, many unable to fully comprehend what is taking place. And there were the tapes, released to the media by ProPublica, an investigative news outlet, of small children crying, their thin voices calling out for their parents. And there was the trembling voice of a small girl, distraught, trying to explain to a border guard that she wanted to call her aunt so she could go to her home and her mother would come and find her. And yes, remarkably, she knew the number. In the background you can hear children sobbing. The fear, layered with stress and uncertainty, is palpable and grips the heart, the damage being done to these children incalculable.
And then there were the questions reporters asked Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during a press conference: “Where are the babies? Where are the smallest children? Where are the girls? None have been seen.” The secretary had no answer. Meanwhile, the media has discovered that there are three centers, called “Tender Age Shelters,” where toddlers and infants are kept. There also is a tent city just completed in Tornillo, Texas, where temperatures reach above 100. This image calls forth memories of Japanese internment camps during World War II.
Doubling down on zero tolerance, Trump said, “You have to take the children (from their parents).” This response increasingly sounds hollow, wretched, and fundamentally cruel.
The awfulness of this policy finally reached critical mass and Trump yielded, saying he “hated separating children from their mothers” and signed an executive order negating his own policy. It was pure theater, followed by Trump clarifying that he has “no choice” but to continue prosecuting parents (with their children) at the border. Those arrested before the order remain in limbo, their future unclear.
But there is a far greater depravity being perpetrated against the children and their parents.
It is possible that some, perhaps many, of the 2,400 children held in detention by the government may never see their parents again. Reports have surfaced that the administration has no database linking parents to the whereabouts of their children. Some mothers have already been deported without their children.
It’s a level of awfulness that stuns. Imagine a woman from Honduras, poor, absent resources or contacts, deported back to her country of origin, frantic, wanting only to be reunited with her child, seemingly lost somewhere in the U.S.
It’s a fact that some children have been relocated to 13 states across America, some already in foster care. And now imagine that the government accepts no responsibility for reuniting the families and putting this human tragedy right.
Is this who we are, now?
Chris Honoré is a Daily Tidings columnist.