Over the past three years, we’ve gotten used to this sequence of events: Donald Trump says something appalling, then elected Republicans say that they’re very troubled by it but that they’d rather focus on the real issues, then within a day or two everyone moves on. Right now, those elected Republicans are applying that template not to an outrageous Trump statement but to an outrageous Trump administration policy, one so morally repugnant that almost no one, not even the president, is willing to publicly defend it. So perhaps it’s time for Republicans to stop saying that they’re troubled or disturbed or distressed, and actually do something.
Though the policy change that led to children being taken from the arms of their parents at the border is now a couple of months old, attention to the issue has become intense only in the past week or so, and now many Republicans from outside government are speaking out against it. Former first lady Laura Bush wrote an op-ed for the Post in which she said:
I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.
Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history.
That opinion seems to be widely shared, yet from the White House, we’ve gotten spin that is not just dishonest but also downright bizarre. Let’s keep in mind that administration officials had been internally debating whether to make this change since almost the beginning of the Trump presidency, and the hard-liners like Stephen Miller finally won out with their argument that precisely because of its cruelty, separating children from their parents would provide a powerful deterrent to those considering crossing the border. So Attorney General Jeff Sessions proudly announced the administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy on May 7, saying, “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”
But as the controversy grew, President Trump decided to claim that his administration’s new policy is required by an imaginary law that is somehow the fault of Democrats. Needless to say, this was simply a lie, but once he said it, all his representatives picked up the line: We hate this, but it’s on Democrats to fix it. “As a mother, as a Catholic, as somebody who has got a conscience,” says Kellyanne Conway, “I will tell you that nobody likes this policy.” Even Melania Trump issued a statement saying “Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform.”
But we don’t need “both sides of the aisle” to do anything. The Trump administration could end the policy today and revert to what it was before, that when families cross the border they will be held together in immigration detention. But that won’t happen. As The Post’s Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey reported on Friday, White House officials privately acknowledge that “Trump has calculated that he will gain political leverage in congressional negotiations by continuing to enforce a policy he claims to hate.”
So to Republicans in Congress: The time to say you’re “troubled” is over. Do you want us to believe that unlike Trump, you are telling the truth when you say you hate the policy of taking children away from their parents? Then the solution is simple. Pass a bill that prohibits it. Democrats in the Senate have already introduced one, but if you don’t like their language, write your own. It’s not complicated.
And don’t tell us that this has to be part of a broader immigration reform. That’s a way of saying we’ll get around to do it next week, or next month, or next year, or maybe never. Republicans can’t agree among themselves about what immigration reform should include. So solve this problem, now. Don’t try to use this as a bargaining chip to get something else you want. Write a bill that says this family separation ends immediately, give it to the president to sign, and worry about the rest of immigration reform later.
That’s not what we’re getting. Instead, we’re seeing Republicans assure us that they don’t support the policy, but they don’t demonstrate much interest in changing it. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said yesterday, “That is traumatizing to the children who are innocent victims. And it is contrary to our values in this country.” So what’s she going to do? Well, she did write a letter to the administration asking for more information. How inspiring.
We should have all seen this coming. Fear and hatred of immigrants made up the foundation of Trump’s presidential campaign. He constantly tries to associate immigrants with crime and drugs. He says racist things about them. He talks about people being “animals.” He sends signals of encouragement to white supremacists. This policy is a direct outgrowth of the poisonous hatred he has been spewing since literally the moment he announced his run for president.
So if Republicans in Congress actually believe that now he has finally gone too far, then they can show some spine for once and stop him.