Donald Trump’s vicious assault on immigrant children and parents has hit America’s moral gag reflex. I have lived in Honduras and seen what they are running from.
Pictures awaken our conscience and spur us to act. The photos of Birmingham police setting dogs and water hoses on peaceful marchers 55 years ago convinced a nation that had idled over segregation to finally end it. After a civil war killed hundreds of thousands, a photo of one tiny boy washed up on a beach focused the world’s attention on the horror of the Syrian dictatorship. And now, pictures of refugee children held in cages — like animals — in U.S. detention facilities, separated from their parents, is awakening Americans to the harsh reality of President Trump’s “zero tolerance” worldview.
A child coming to America to seek refuge from violence is not a criminal. The U.S. has a legal policy allowing people to apply for refugee status. Many of the incoming children and families are fleeing communities with some of the highest murder rates in the world. A family fleeing catastrophic violence to save a child’s life recalls Joseph and Mary taking the infant Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod’s sword.
I know these kids and the communities they come from. I worked in Honduras as a missionary from 1980 to 1981, and I returned in 2015 to the town where I used to live. I’ve visited the neighborhoods where gangs recruit 10-year-olds and heard the anguish of parents who love their homes but fear their children will become the next casualties of a drug war. Their children’s lives are worth the dangerous trek to the U.S. They dream of a home not besieged by crossfire.
And then they end up in cages.
Punishing immigrants is who Trump is
Families who enter the country unlawfully are committing a misdemeanor. But we don’t normally separate children from their parents for misdemeanors. So President Trump’s policy of separating children from their parents is exposed for what it is — a vicious assault on vulnerable families.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ use of Scripture to justify this atrocity is abominable. Over and over, the Bible compels just treatment of refugees, recognizing that Israel was also an immigrant nation during much of its life.
The administration’s claim that it is just “following the law” is disingenuous. There is no law requiring the separation of families in the manner the president has commanded.
More: Sorry Jeff Sessions, the Bible doesn’t justify terrorizing parents & children on the border
Donald Trump is using his power to dehumanize people who aren’t white. It can be fatal.
Trump-Sessions immigration policies rip children from parents, shred American values
The cowardly efforts to deflect blame — “the Democrats won’t do immigration reform”— are laughable. I worked with a bipartisan group of 16 senators in February to craft an immigration reform bill. In exchange for permanent protection for DREAMers, which President Trump had publicly called for after announcing the termination of their protected status, we agreed to the precise amount of border security funding the president requested. We took the deal to him and essentially asked, “Can you take yes for an answer?” But urged by political operatives, the president reversed field and turned it down.
Why did this president reject bipartisan compromise that fit his earlier positions and double down on a harsh attack on immigrant families? Simple: Punishing immigrants —whether they come legally or illegally — is just at the heart of who this man is.
Heartless and also stupid economics
He was obsessed with the conspiracy theory that President Obama isn’t an American citizen. He’s proclaimed a travel ban against people from predominantly Muslim countries. He’s derided “shithole countries,” attacked family unification, taken away protection from young DREAMers who know no other country as home, canceled protected status for thousands who came here to flee humanitarian disasters, and recently announced that even a well-founded fear of domestic violence will not allow for an asylum claim.
The heartlessness of this president’s anti-immigrant policy is matched by its economic stupidity. In 1958, the year I was born, one out of every 100 Virginians was an immigrant, and the state was poor, almost in the bottom quarter of states in personal income. Today, nearly one out of nine Virginians is an immigrant, and we are in thetop quarter in personal income. The ingenuity, work ethic and global reach of our New Americans have made Virginia more successful and done the same for our nation, but the president’s anti-immigrant moves have begun chasing these talented people away.
America needs to stop the cruelty at the border and allow families to be together as we determine whether they can lawfully gain entrance to our country. I’ve cosponsored a bill led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein to do just that, and I’ll keep pushing for bipartisan action to improve our immigration laws.
The terrible photos of kids in cages — the real Trump Hotel — have hit America’s moral gag reflex. We are too good a nation to sink so low.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., worked at a technical school founded by Jesuit missionaries in Honduras from 1980-1981. Follow him on Twitter: @timkaine
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