In the era of Trump, every week is incredible. But this was a really incredible week. After defending the inhumane “zero tolerance” policy that rips children from their parents and then, either by incompetence or corrupt intent, ships them in the dead of night to detention facilities without any paper trail, Trump signed an executive order that stops the separation but leaves in place the 2300 kids that have been separated to date. (That’s an incredibly long sentence but, like I said, it’s been that kind of week.)
The Guardian has a retrospective look at this last week by David Smith in How family separations caused Trump’s first retreat – and deepened his bunker mentality. Besieged by negative press over pictures of frightened children, the president backed off. But his allies remain and the party is still his to command. Remember that a majority of Republicans think that Trump’s immigration policy is just A-OK.
Ostensibly, Trump’s executive order ended the separation of children from their parents at the Mexican border, after days of cascading outrage in America and around the world.
"He had to sign it for one simple reason,” said Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee. “The imagery was so bad that he could no longer justify the policy. You had people out there making complete asses of themselves in front of cameras, from the attorney general to the secretary of homeland security, justifying this inhumanity and blaming the migrants who are coming here seeking asylum.”
Steele added: “There’s no doubt it absolutely was the critical piece that changed this around for the president because you cannot argue with the image of a three-year-old child standing at her mother’s side crying as she’s being handcuffed and taken from her no matter how much you try, no matter how much you try to rally your base around it. Some of the polling started to show even members of his base thought, ‘Well that that may be a little bit too far – maybe.’”
There were family separations before Trump but officials usually erred on the side of keeping parents and their children together. The justice department’s announcement in April that all unlawful border crossings would be criminally prosecuted changed that. Now people without documents were sent directly to detention centres and their children and babies put in separate facilities.
America looked at itself in the mirror and did not like what it saw. All four living former first ladies spoke out. Church leaders raised their voices. Liberal cable news host Rachel Maddow broke down in tears during a live broadcast. Bruce Springsteen, performing on Broadway, told his audience: “We are seeing things right now on our American borders that are so shockingly and disgracefully inhumane and un-American that it is simply enraging.”
Then there was First Lady Melania Trump, who flew to a children’s detention centre in Texas but upended her mission of compassion by wearing a Zara jacket bearing a slogan: “I really don’t care. Do U?” Her spokeswoman said there was no hidden message; her husband said there was a hidden message about the media.
Steele said: “It’s fucking 90 degrees here in Washington and Texas. I’m sorry, what do you think the response is going to be if you wear a coat like that going to the place you’re going in the midst of the controversy which your husband’s administration is embroiled in? How can you not think that people would say you’re basically flipping off this whole thing?”
Rich Galen, a Republican strategist and former press secretary to vice-president Dan Quayle, said: “Trump got to the point where even Republicans in the House or Senate openly disagreed with him, which they have not been willing to do on almost anything before this. The Republicans were getting blistered by their constituents and starting to sense they need to establish their own personalities in their districts. If I was a Democrat woman running against a Republican man, this is all I’d run [in TV commercials].”
The Republican rebellion should not be overstated, however. [Sen. Ted] Cruz and others were careful to swerve past condemnation of Trump, who remains utterly dominant in the party. …
Steele reflected: “I’m not going to give them brownie points for doing something that they should do without having to feel that they should get a pat on the back. There’s no applause for that because you’ve let so many other things go unaccounted for, uncommented on, you’ve turned your head the other way, looking in shame instead of standing straight up and going, ‘This is wrong.’ We are here because those leaders and significant numbers of our neighbours and friends have allowed us to be here. They want us to be here. This is the space we’re in. So now we have to deal with this.”
The sentiment was echoed by Neil Sroka, communications director for the progressive political action committee Democracy for America. “I don’t think they found their backbone as much as they found a level they could not withstand politically,” he said. “The last week showed they only care about the politics of the situation: it doesn’t matter how many brown lives they ruin as long as they advance Donald Trump’s agenda.
Sroka said: “Something in Donald Trump’s reptilian brain couldn’t understand the morality but understood that using children as bargaining chips is politically toxic. The fallback position we’re in now is equally toxic. He went from the government kidnapping children to the Department of Defense setting up internment camps for families.”
And remember: “It also does nothing to reunite those already separated.”
Zoe Carpenter at The Nation reports that The Trump Administration Still Has No Plan to Reunite Families It Tore Apart. The 2,300 children who have been taken from their parents face a tangled legal process and a shortage of lawyers to help them through it.
… rather than clarify the problems facing separated families, Trump’s executive order only replaces one disastrous policy with another. Officials are reportedly preparing to house as many as 20,000 children and their families on military bases, a plan that may well violate the Flores settlement, which establishes basic protections for children in federal custody. Accordingly, the Trump administration is petitioning a court to dismantle Flores. “In some respects, the executive order makes things worse,” Efrén Olivares said. “The use of military facilities and the potential construction of additional facilities is outrageous. In 2018, to be building internment camps for immigrants is unconscionable.”
To that I would add a reminder that Justice requisitioned 21 JAG lawyers from Defense to work on immigration matters at the border. These are active U. S. military working in service of civilian policies in the 50 states. Together with the housing of immigrants on military bases, that strikes me as a violation of posse comitatus. From Wikipedia, “In the United States, a federal statute known as the Posse Comitatus Act, enacted in 1878, forbade the use of the United States Army, and through it, its offspring, the United States Air Force, as a posse comitatus or for law enforcement purposes without the approval of Congress.” But that would not be the only law trampled by the Trumpians.
And when you drill down to the individual level, the cases of children separated from their parents is a psychological nightmare. Amanda Schaffer at The New Yorker reports on A Physician in South Texas on an Unnerving Encounter with an Eight-Year-Old Boy in Immigration Detention.
(Below are snippets but you should read the entire article that describes interactions of the physician with the adult handlers of that boy. Sick.)
Alicia Hart has worked as an emergency physician in South Texas for ten years, and has seen a stream of migrant children from Guatemala and Honduras come to the U.S. fleeing gang violence. In the past, most of the kids in her care were teen-agers who had crossed the border unaccompanied and ended up in government detention facilities. Many of them were fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen years old and seemed capable of living away from their families. Most came to the emergency room for common childhood complaints, such as viral illnesses, asthma, and allergies. “Some had sad stories from their home countries, but they seemed relieved to be here,” Hart said. “It seemed like most were just waiting to be sent to relatives in the U.S.”
But then the Trump Administration began to enforce a “zero tolerance” approach toward migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, a move that included separating parents from their children. (The President apparently revoked the policy on Wednesday.) The number of young children in detention facilities rose sharply. “The population I’ve been starting to see is younger, and it scares me,” Hart said. “These are little people, little babies. And they are ill-equipped to fend for themselves. They’re so totally traumatized. They don’t cry like normal kids. They don’t interact like normal kids.”
Last week, on a day when Hart was on duty, the charge nurse called her over to examine a child who needed clearance for psychiatric treatment. He was eight years old, and he sat hunched in a recliner chair next to the nurses’ station. …
"This boy seemed devastated—quiet and withdrawn. He barely spoke. I asked if he needed a hug. I kneeled down in front of the recliner, and this kid just threw himself into my arms and didn’t let go. He cried and I cried. And to think he’s been in a facility for a month without a hug, away from his parents, and scared, and not knowing when he’ll see them again or if he’ll see them again. … If we get these kids to the psychiatrists, at least they’re in a protective unit, away from these detention facilities, and they will get some of the counselling they need, because they’ve been through a tremendous trauma. The idea of pulling a child out of a parent’s arms, or identifying a parent but still keeping them separate—it isn’t right. Just deep in your viscera, you say, ‘This is wrong.’ ”
And, sadly, there is no end in sight of the wrong inflicted by Trump on the immigrants and on our nation. Expect more revelations of more wrongs in the week starting tomorrow, another week that should never be.