By Andy Cohen
Donald Trump wants you to know that there’s a massive crisis happening along the southern border of the United States — the border shared with Mexico. He’s right, and it’s a crisis of his own making.
This past May, the Trump administration instituted a “zero tolerance” policy aimed at ending illegal immigration into the United States from Central America and Mexico. Many — perhaps most — of those seeking to enter the U.S. come here seeking asylum, fleeing gang violence, murder, human trafficking, and governments too ineffectual to stop it. These are people fleeing for their lives, with nowhere else to go. They come here seeking safety, looking for a better life; for a future where they might not have one at all in their home countries.
What they found when they got here was perhaps just as evil as what they were fleeing — a government that, by expressed policy, has decided to effectively kidnap children from their parents, with no guarantee that they will ever see them again.
This is what the party of “family values” has brought us. We are no longer the nation over which the Mother of Exiles stood watch. We have been allowed to become the country that torments the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” We are now a country that places those of a darker hue in cages for the crime of wanting to live, sending their children — including infants — to be interned alone thousands of miles away, treated as animals. Asylum is no longer a part of our lexicon.
Although the focus of the administration’s zero tolerance policy has been along the border with Texas, for a brief while the glare shifted to San Diego, where Juan Vargas (D-51) — whose district spans the entirety of California’s border with Mexico — gathered with a delegation of about 15 members of Congress, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to see firsthand the conditions being endured by children separated from their parents.
It should be noted that the administration, and Donald Trump in particular, has repeatedly insisted that the family separations and detentions are the result of what Trump calls a Democratic law that mandates them, and has placed the blame for the policies being enacted squarely at the feet of Congressional Democrats. This is a lie. There is no law in existence that calls for the separation of families, and there is no law that requires asylum seekers to be placed into detention indefinitely and prosecuted, denied entry with no hearing. This is a policy decision made strictly by Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“The Trump administration’s family separation policy is an affront to the values America stands for,” Vargas said. “Ripping children from the arms of their parents who are fleeing violence and seeking safety at the border is cruel, inhumane, and un-American. No child should have to endure what these children are experiencing, and no parent should have their children ripped from their arms. President Trump put this immoral policy in place, he has the power to end this policy — and he should.”
Susan Davis (D-53) was equally dismayed at the administration’s policies.
“The United States should have a zero-tolerance policy for the immoral treatment of children,” Davis said. “We are a nation of values and we ask our men and women in uniform to defend those values every day. This policy is in no way consistent with those values. As a social worker who practiced in medical and psychiatric settings, particularly focusing on children and families, I can say the profound trauma these children are experiencing will cause immediate and long-lasting damage to them.”
“Ripping terrified children away from their parents’ arms at the border is horrifying and un-American,” said Scott Peters (D-52), who was on the East Coast visiting his father and unable to join the delegation. “These children have endured so much already and should not suffer even more at the hands of this administration’s cruel policies. Children are being held hostage to the Trump/Ryan border wall. To be clear, the president could end this right now with the stroke of a pen, but he won’t, so Congress must act.”
“In our country, family is an institution,” he added. “It shapes every aspect of our lives. Today, family — that concept — is being torn apart and challenged at our own borders. Screaming children are being ripped from their mothers’ arms. These parents are fleeing government violence, domestic violence, religious persecution. They follow generations of people who came to America, seeking a better life.”
Duncan Hunter (R-50) took a different view of the situation.
“Our nation has laws that are in place and that deserve to be enforced. We owe this to our citizens as well as to our brave men and women enforcing those laws, they need to know they have our support,” Hunter said. “The policy by the prior administration of simply providing a notice to appear and then releasing these individuals into the U.S. for a court date that is three years away is both irresponsible and unsustainable. Additionally, the number of our Border Patrol agents are down, so these agents are trying to handle more with less.”
Hunter also insisted that “the policies in place now are the same policies that were in existence with prior administrations.” This is false. There was no prior policy in place mandating the separation of children from their families, unless there was a direct threat to the health and well-being of the children.
Hunter also claimed that the number of individuals with children entering the country illegally has more than doubled, which is false. It is true, however, that the number of arrests of non-criminal aliens did more than double in 2017.
It should be noted that after over a month of harsh criticism, President Trump finally signed an executive order ostensibly terminating the policy requiring children to be separated from their parents at the border, contradicting his own earlier statements that he was powerless to stop it. Still, the administration is determined to imprison families indefinitely.
—Andy Cohen is a local freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.