Obligated to speak

I seldom write about politics here — because in a democracy everyone is entitled to their beliefs. But when children are being deliberately brutalized for political gain, it becomes a moral imperative to speak up. My hope is that some of you will call your representatives in Congress and ask them to please support more humane ways of enforcing our nation’s laws.

Yesterday we celebrated Father’s Day in the United States. But thanks to the direct actions of the government more than 1,000 fathers spent the day separated from their kids. And at least one of these fathers — Marco Antonio Muñoz — will never see his children again, because he’s dead.

Muñoz and his family were apprehended at the Weslaco, Texas Border Patrol station on May 11, where they were arrested under the “zero tolerance” immigration policy Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in April.

According to a Border Patrol official, “… Muñoz ‘lost it’ after Border Patrol told the family they would be separated. ‘The [Border Patrol] had to use physical force to take the child out of his hands.’” Muñoz later killed himself in his jail cell on May 13.

Although Muñoz’s case is extreme, it’s hardly unique: The Trump administration separated 1,995 children from 1,940 adults between April 19 and May 31, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said last Friday.

McAllen Texas immigrant arrestA child cried as her mother was searched and detained in McAllen, Texas, this past week.
Credit: John Moore/Getty Images

The officials could not confirm whether parents are allowed to say goodbye to their children before they are separated. Some reports have alleged that parents were told their children were being taken to a separate facility for a bath; others have described children screaming in the next room as their parents were being arrested. In some cases the parents have even been sent home without their children.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said he is simply enforcing the law. But there is in fact no law mandating that parents must be separated from their children at the border.

DHS officials have also said they have “no choice” but to separate parents and children, claiming that the only alternative option is to ignore the law. (Never mind that previous administrations have found other ways to keep migrant families together as they wound their way through immigration court proceedings.)

Meanwhile, Trump is blaming the Democrats for this “forced family breakup.”

Twitter democrats

In fact, it was President George W. Bush who initiated the “zero tolerance” approach for illegal immigration on which Mr. Trump’s policy is modeled.

In 2005, Bush launched Operation Streamline, a program along a stretch of the border in Texas that imprisoned all unlawful entrants and expedited assembly-line-style deportation trials. However, exceptions were generally made for adults who were traveling with minor children, as well as juveniles and people who were ill.

But it’s really not about whom to blame, is it? What matters is that this systemic child abuse masquerading as law enforcement must stop. And the cold truth is that if Trump “hates separating families” as much as he claims, he himself can end it — today — with a single phone call.

Children should never be used as pawns for political gains, especially when it will cause them irreparable, permanent trauma.

Dr. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, saw some of the detained children in April. “It was really devastating to see,” she said. “The first room we went into was a toddler room and there was a little girl who couldn’t have been more than two years old who was just sobbing and crying and was inconsolable.”

And beyond the trauma our government is deliberately inflicting on these children, we are also harming ourselves and our standing in the world.

Remember how shocked the nation was to see Otto Warmbier coming home comatose from North Korea, after being detained for taking a pamphlet from his hotel room? We will no longer have the moral high ground or the right to be outraged over such mistreatment of American citizens if we ourselves are doing irreparable damage to those we detain.

As a society we would be horrified if a police officer pulled over a car for a moving violation and proceeded to beat up the children who were riding in the back seat. Isn’t it just as horrifying to beat up children psychologically under the pretext of enforcing the law?

We can — we MUST — do better than this.