President Trump has calculated that he will gain political leverage in congressional negotiations by continuing to enforce a policy he claims to hate — separating immigrant parents from their young children at the southern border, according to White House officials.
On Friday, Trump suggested he would not change the policy unless Democrats agreed to his other immigration demands, which include funding a border wall, tightening the rules for border enforcement and curbing legal entry. He also is intent on pushing members of his party to vote for a compromise measure that would achieve those long-standing priorities.
Trump’s public acknowledgment that he was willing to let the policy continue as he pursued his political goals came as the president once again blamed Democrats for a policy enacted and touted by his own administration.
Claiming Democrats are responsible for child separation obviously isn’t true if he refuses to change the policy without concessions. The phrase “holding X hostage” — the country, Medicaid patients, etc. — is overused in politics, but in this case Trump is literally refusing to stop taking infants and toddlers away from their parents unless a list of demands is met.
To snatch kids from parents, inducing trauma and long-term mental hardship, is monstrous, the conduct of brutal totalitarians. There is no policy “get” or advantage that can justify this. We falter in attempting to describe it — cruel, horrible, barbaric. Those who oppose this policy, regardless of political identification or other differences, should make common cause — a coalition for decency, if you will.
Republicans will deservedly be painted as anti-family. In Texas, for example, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic nominee for the Senate, is leading a Father’s Day march to visit a just-opened tent camp in Tornillo for children taken from their parents. He’s already spoken out vigorously against the child separation policy, posting a much-discussed video describing his interaction with one mother. (“The mom was just desperate, she could not help but cry the entire time she was talking with us. She was anxious, she didn’t know what was next, she had just survived this many-weeks journey.”) And describing the detention facility. (“They were in essentially very large cages, pods, cyclone fences 10-feet high with netting on the top. Polished concrete floors, it’s just a gigantic warehouse where hundreds of kids and adults are kept divided by age, families no longer together.”)
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), father of two girls, nevertheless defends the monstrous practice of child separation, saying that it’s “inevitable” when you arrest their parents. That, however, is the inhumane policy decision — arresting each and every person, even including asylum seekers — that set off this humanitarian disaster. That is as clear a choice as voters are going to get as to the direction of the country. Are we Cruz’s America, where children are used as pawns to win points with Trump and Cruz’s anti-immigrant base, or are we, as O’Rourke put it, “better than this”?
At this point, O’Rourke is directing his ire primarily at the administration, but he should not be shy about pointing the finger directly at his opponent, who slavishly supports every move the administration makes and has consistently opposed immigration solutions that would have overwhelming bipartisan support. Every parent in Texas (and every decent human being) should understand they are making not just a political choice but a moral one, too.
We know Trump embraces dictators, attacks allies, assaults law enforcement, undermines the rule of law and lies nonstop. Evidently that’s not enough to arouse the ire of most Republicans. However, among all of the mind-numbingly awful things the GOP has countenanced, none comes close to the family separation policy. There surely must be a wide, diverse coalition of Americans who recoil at a practice so distasteful — a coalition that transcends class, race, gender and ideology and is backed by Catholic, Baptist and Jewish clergy (among others) who have denounced the practice as evil. These Americans will have the opportunity in November to throw out politicians who cheer the monstrous policy of child separation.