When I was in the fifth grade at a Catholic grade school in Illinois, we had a classmate whose parents were fairly recent immigrants from an eastern European country. One day she came to school with a scarf tied under her chin, and some of the “cool girls” on the playground started making fun of her “babushka.” Their taunts made her cry, and it made me mad. I went up to her and put my arm around her and yelled at the girls, telling them to shut up and stop being mean. They did, I think in part because they were stunned that someone had stood up to them.
That’s what decent Americans just did to our bully-in-chief, to get him to stop terrorizing small children in order to frighten their parents into not trying to enter the country illegally. I get that we can’t have open borders, and that people should not be able to enter the United States unchecked.
But there’s this. The zero-tolerance stance that Donald Trump and his minions took with regard to our illegal immigration law was a conscious and very cruel choice to purposefully distress babies in order to send a message to their parents. Most of us are parents or grandparents. We know how attached little ones are to their mothers. We’ve all seen a tiny child sob so hard their little body wracks and they gasp for air if they are frightened and there is no one that they know to comfort them.
To do that to a child just to make a point is simply evil. The provisions of the law do not say that you have to take children away from their mothers or fathers and house them en masse while you prosecute the parents. These law enforcement officers could’ve been decent human beings and given the parents a choice – stay together and return to your home country, or call a relative in the states and have them come and get your child, and explain to them what is happening (if they’re old enough to understand), so you know, and the child knows, that he or she is safe.
But Trump, as we know from the cheating on the wives, the Trump University settlement, the paying off the porn star to keep quiet before the election, and of course, the Access Hollywood “grab ‘em” tape, is not a decent human being. Anyone who would terrorize children to make a point has a serious void in their moral core. Various media reports tell us this was a concerted effort orchestrated by White House advisor Stephen Miller and John Kelly, Trump’s current Chief of Staff and former Homeland Security Advisor. Kelly talked about separating children from their parents as a deterrent in a CNN interview last year.
Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of Homeland Security, retorted at a recent press conference, “Parents who entered illegally are by definition criminals… By entering our country illegally, often in dangerous circumstances, illegal immigrants have put their children at risk.”
Really, Kirstjen? If this dangerous path was their choice, imagine how much more life-threatening it must have been to stay in their homeland.
Speaking of risk, what about these warehouses in which the children being kept? Why chain link cages? How frightening is that for a child? And has anyone vetted the guards, babysitters, caretakers, or whatever they are calling those watching these children? This situation is rife for abuse.
Trump and “his people” (like he’s a mobster, or a Hollywood mogul) were unapologetic about tearing sobbing children away from their mothers and locking them in cages under the pretext of following “the law.” But remember, slavery was once a law. And just 51 years ago, it would’ve been illegal for me to marry my husband in the mainland United States, because our country had a law prohibiting interracial marriage. So laws have been, and can be, unjust. One of America’s premiere descendants of immigrants, Thomas Jefferson, said it best: “If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so."
So good job, decent Americans, for opening your mouths, protesting, and standing up to the bully-in-chief. Because of the collective outcry from so many sides – even his own - Trump’s hands are magically no longer tied on the issue; he signed an executive order to “maintain family unity,” and detain entire families together (for the time being).
Probably one of the most disturbing points of this horrible situation is this: If Trump and his ilk thought they could get away with terrorizing children to make a point, what other cruel tactics do they have up their sleeves in order to promote his agenda and keep his base happy?
We need to keep up the pressure on this schoolyard bully. The fight is not over yet.
Jayne Flores is a long-time journalist. She currently works at Guam Community College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org