Trump crosses moral line by splitting migrant families

By:  The News Tribune Editorial Board
Source: The Tacoma News Tribune

We can’t say we weren’t warned. The linchpin of President Trump’s nativist vision to “Make America Great Again” has always been a hard stance on immigration. Recall the fevered pitch of MAGA supporters at the mere mention of “wall.”

But there’s nothing great about tearing children out of the arms of mothers and fathers and housing them in pens, a practice that’s now part of Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy for people trying to cross the Mexican border. The Trump administration believes it can stem the tide by sending a message as clear as it is cruel: We will break your spirit by breaking up your families.

Since last month, nearly everyone trying to cross the border without papers, including asylum seekers, is being charged with a misdemeanor. The criminal charge allows federal law enforcement to take children away from parents while their cases are processed.

The day after the policy went into effect, 93 adult migrants were separated from their children, Customs and Border Protection officials reported to Congress. As the days roll on, the numbers grow, along with the collateral damage.

Then came the decision to send more than 1,600 migrants and asylum seekers to federal prisons; more than 200 arrived at the detention center in SeaTac last week, making it harder for Washingtonians to ignore the ugliness.

Meantime, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is looking for land in Texas to erect a tent city that can hold between 1,000 and 5,000 children.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee hit the bullseye when he said separating families is “an intentional infliction of trauma on children.”

Before we single out Trump for another cold-hearted policy, however, it’s important to note that incarcerating people with pending immigration cases didn’t begin with the current administration; it’s been U.S. policy since President Clinton signed it into law in 1996.

Nor is it a new concept to commandeer additional space in federal buildings. Three years ago, during a surge of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America, vacant barracks at JBLM were briefly considered for temporary housing.

But there’s a difference between President Obama’s strategy and Trump’s. Obama played the long game; he saw the benefit of boosting foreign aid, helping Central American governments repatriate their citizens and allowing oppressed migrants to file for asylum while still in their home countries. He spent millions on these efforts.

Trump broadly rejects asylum seekers and spends millions on facilities designed to punish. It’s why the White House just asked Congress to fund 51,000 additional beds for immigration detention centers like the one on Tacoma’s Tideflats.

U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, met with several female migrants at the SeaTac center on Saturday and said most were seeking refuge from domestic violence and rape. But under a new ruling by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, such victims no longer qualify for asylum.

Sessions’ legal opinion comes across like a shoulder shrug: “The asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune,” he wrote.

It’s hard to fathom that Trump’s vision of a great America would include traumatizing children and housing their parents in facilities built for murderers and gangsters. It’s certainly not a vision shared by most Americans.

We take some comfort knowing Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, along with 31 of their colleagues, have introduced legislation to keep immigrant families together.

Our country’s greatness has never been defined by how it treats the privileged and powerful but by how it treats the vulnerable and oppressed. We are a country that prides itself on human rights and due process.

There’s only one way to make America great again, and that’s a return to those values.