TRUMP ADMINISTRATION officials have tried a number of stratagems to counter the near-universal condemnation of their policy of separating migrant children from their parents when apprehended at the border. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he is heeding the Bible. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she is just following the law. The president, of course, blamed Democrats.
What no one in the administration has done is to try to justify breaking up families. That’s because there is nothing that can justify a policy that, in just six weeks, has resulted in nearly 2,000 children, some younger than 4 years old, being snatched from their mothers and fathers, and with no good plans to reunite them.
“Cruel” and “immoral” and “it breaks my heart” were the words of former first lady Laura Bush in a Post op-ed that offered a searing indictment of the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy of criminally prosecuting everyone who illegally crosses the U.S. border. “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,” she said, drawing a comparison to another shameful time in America, the internment of U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent during World War II. (Ms. Bush’s op-ed appears on today’s Tuesday Opinion page.)
That Ms. Bush felt compelled to speak out — and so clearly — hopefully will add to the momentum to get the Trump administration to reverse its policy and reunite these families. So, too, should glimpses into some of the centers where children are being held provided by reporters and lawmakers who visited them over the weekend. The Post’s Sean Sullivan described young children in a concrete-floor cage sleeping under foil blankets on thin mattress pads. The Associated Press relayed an account of one visitor about 5-year-olds in a cage with no toys or books and one boy quiet as he clutched a photocopy of his mother’s ID card. ProPublica obtained audio of children sobbing desperately for their parents as a Border Patrol agent joked, “We have an orchestra here.”
There is no question as to who created these appalling conditions — and who has the authority to end them immediately. The administration’s implementation of a zero-tolerance policy of criminal prosecution set up de facto family separation because minors cannot be kept in federal criminal detention facilities. Other options — expansion of administrative (not criminal) detention centers for families awaiting immigration proceedings or alternatives to detention such as release with ankle bracelets or high supervision — were not employed. So spare us White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s false tears because “nobody likes seeing babies ripped from their mother’s arms.”
It’s certainly true that the nation’s immigration laws need reform. But it is simply not correct, as Ms. Nielsen suggested Monday, that Congress must act before the crisis of families being separated can be solved. As Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C) said: “President Trump could stop this policy with a phone call . . . If you don’t like families being separated, you can tell [Homeland Security], ‘Stop doing it.’ ”