Last month, the Trump administration instituted a new “zero tolerance” policy directed at migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexican border illegally. Anyone captured would be prosecuted as a criminal, meaning parents and children crossing together would be separated, as minors cannot accompany adults to federal detention centers. Over 2,000 children have been taken from their parents and put into camps since the policy took effect, and accounts of the separations and the conditions in which the now-unaccompanied children are living have been horrifying. Outrage over the policy has reached a fever pitch, and the Trump administration, Republican lawmakers and Fox News have been busy scraping the bottom of the barrel to defend the practice.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has called the policy a “deterrent.” Senior Adviser Stephen Miller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have defended it as a means of enforcing of the law, with Sessions quoting a Bible verse that has previously been used to defend slavery. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also invoked the Bible while defending the policy during a heated Friday afternoon press briefing. Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Saturday told CNN there is no part of the Bible that defends family separation.
On Sunday, Department of Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen went so far as to deny the policy even exists. This was good enough for Fox News. “If you went out and robbed a bank and you’ve got your kids in the car when they catch you, they’re going to take the kids,” said Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy, who also tried to argue that the chain-link enclosures housing migrant children are not “cages.” (Border Patrol has admitted they are caging asylum-seekers.)
DHS Secy Nielsen sets the record straight, saying there is no ‘policy of separating families at the border’ pic.twitter.com/vY8VRUP5Ux
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) June 18, 2018
This conflation of asylum-seekers and hardened criminals is what lies at the core of the “rule of law” defense being trumpeted by the administration, but the vast majority of those crossing the border into the United States are not criminals. They are vulnerable, scared and seeking a better life for themselves and their children in a country they were for some reason led to believe is a land of opportunity welcoming to immigrants. This is clearly not the case in Donald Trump’s America, and the president said so explicitly Monday morning, criticizing Germany on Twitter for “allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture.” The policy of separating children from their parents at the border isn’t about some Biblical duty to uphold the law; it’s about preserving the whiteness of America.
The people of Germany are turning against their leadership as migration is rocking the already tenuous Berlin coalition. Crime in Germany is way up. Big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2018
We don’t want what is happening with immigration in Europe to happen with us!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2018
Though Trump instituted the policy, he doesn’t want to be associated with something as unsavory as ripping apart families, so he’s taken to blaming Democrats. The president has claimed repeatedly that the policy is one of the party’s laws, a lie as bald-faced as Nielsen’s tweet that it doesn’t exist. “The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda,” he tweeted on Friday. “Any Immigration Bill MUST HAVE full funding for the Wall, end Catch & Release, Visa Lottery and Chain, and go to Merit Based Immigration. Go for it! WIN!” On Saturday, he tweeted that “Democrats can fix their forced family breakup at the Border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change!”
Trump is deflecting blame not only to avoid being held responsible for something so cruel, but in a strategic ploy to force Democrats into passing an immigration bill that includes funding for a border wall and tightening restrictions on legal immigration. On Friday, the Washington Post reported as much, writing that, according to White House officials, the president “has calculated that he will gain political leverage in congressional negotiations by continuing to enforce a policy he claims to hate.” In other words, the administration is holding children hostage, literally, until Democrats give in to Trump’s demands. These are Art of the Deal-style negotiating tactics 62 million Americans voted for in 2016.
As Trump has continued to blame Democrats, so, too, have most of the Republican talking heads invited onto cable news shows. Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said on Fox News that it’s “completely false” that the administration is separating children from parents, and that “this is all the Democrats’ doing.” Mike Huckabee claimed the problem could be solved “if you had some Democrats with the integrity to work with the president.” Ann Coulter called the children “child actors” and urged the president not to “fall for it.”
Ann Coulter on Fox News calls crying immigrant children “child actors” and looks directly into the camera to warn Trump not to fall for it. pic.twitter.com/SIjrocmxKB
— Jon Levine (@LevineJonathan) June 18, 2018
The most revealing defense of the policy came from Cory Stewart, the Trump-endorsed, white nationalist-affiliated Senate candidate from Virginia who on Sunday laid bare what the policy’s defenders have been dancing around for weeks: That they simply don’t care that much about the welfare of kids who aren’t American.
Kasie: “And that’s more important than these children?”
Stewart: “Absolutely.” pic.twitter.com/nMb7JZSuMb
— Kasie DC (@KasieDC) June 17, 2018
What’s been absent from those defending the policy is any regard for basic human decency. It’s wrong to rip an infant from her mother while she’s breastfeeding, and then cuff the mother for resisting. It’s wrong to keep five-year-old children in cages with nothing to play with other than a photocopy of their now-absent mother’s ID card. It’s wrong to tear a family apart and then threaten the parent with additional charges when they ask if they can have a few minutes to console the child they have no idea when they will see again. Inflicting this kind of harm on families seeking asylum is inarguably wrong. It’s now also inarguably American.
Colleen Kraft, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, on Monday explained just how harmful this treatment can be for the children, describing it as child abuse. “This type of trauma can be long-lasting and it’s difficult to recover from this,” she told CBS. “We know very young children who experience this type of trauma go on to not develop their speech, not to develop their language, not to develop their gross and fine motor skills and wind up with developmental delays.”
ProPublica on Monday released audio of children crying shortly after their parents had been taken away from them. “We have an orchestra here,” a border patrol agent jokes.
American First, though.