Her face is unforgettable.
We all saw that image of a little girl dressed in red, crying, scared and alone.
All of America saw her and felt ashamed. She was a tiny victim of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. And while we don’t know her name, we know the circumstances that brought her to tears.
Back in April, the Justice Department announced that anyone who was caught trying to illegally cross the southern border with Mexico would be treated as a criminal. Adults would be arrested and families would be torn apart with parents going to detention and children going to holding centers or foster care.
No one could say when they would be together again.
In just the first six weeks, more than 2000 migrant children were separated from their parents. Over time, the nation saw the faces of some of those traumatized kids and heard their sobs in secret recordings made by caregivers with a conscience.
It was heartbreaking. Sure, their parents had violated the law, but this was crazy… many called it inhumane. How — many of us wondered — could a country long known for its welcome arms do this to innocent kids?
Their plight touched us.
Human rights activists were quick to take up their cause… along with religious leaders… and even the national association of pediatricians, which warned of the long-time dire affect this separation could have on small children.
But the Trump administration was unmoved, saying this is the price that must be paid to secure our borders, as if these crying tots were a threat to our national security.
Officials spoke of the threat of separation as a deterrent designed to keep families from entering the country illegally. Why would they even try if they knew parents would be separated from their kids?
The fact is, many of these families — probably almost all of them — have fled horrific conditions in their homelands. They came here seeking asylum and a better, safer, life for their children — something that surely all American moms and dads can understand.
The president and his top aides, however, were having none of it. They continued to defend their policy even in the face of criticism from people like former first lady Laura Bush, who wrote the words so many of us wanted to say:
“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,” she said in an essay printed in the Washington Post.
And then there was a plea from Melania Trump, relayed by her spokeswoman. Stephanie Grisham told CNN that Mrs. Trump “believes in a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”
We don’t know what Mrs. Trump said in private to the president or what he heard from his daughter, Ivanka. But as the political pressure grew, Donald Trump finally did something he hates doing perhaps more than anything else. He reversed his own policy.
The president had maintained that only Congress could resolve the situation by writing new laws — a sign that he was using these children as leverage to win passage of hard-line immigration legislation. He blamed the Democrats for the mess, though he never explained why. And he actually had the nerve to say that some of these children were really brought to this county not by their parents, but by hardened criminals who used them as cover.
In the end, President Trump wanted to have it both ways. He wanted credit for being tough on the border but he did not want to take responsibility for creating an humanitarian nightmare by tearing these children out of their parents’ arms.
Listen to the words he said as he signed the executive order that he vowed would end the forced separation of migrant families:
“We’re going to have strong — very strong — borders, but we are going to keep the families together,” He said, adding “I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.”
The four-page order leaves a lot of unanswered questions. It basically says the United States will continue to prosecute anyone who crosses the border illegally, but will seek to find or build facilities where families can remain together until their case is heard by an immigration judge.
None of this is likely to happen immediately. The logistics will take some time to work out and there is even a chance that anti-immigrant forces in this country could try to challenge the executive order in court.
No one knows where or how these arrested migrant families might be held – though there is speculation they may be taken to military bases that have housed victims of natural disasters in the past.
And of course the most nagging issue of all is when will the kids already separated from their families be reunited with their parents? Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services — which is responsible for the care of these children — indicate those reunions will not happen anytime soon.
And the longer it takes, the longer the whole plight of these migrants is likely to remain front and center before the American people.
That is not good politically for Republicans in Congress. If the anger among the electorate over this issue persists, they could pay the price on election day in November when the whole House of Representatives is up for re-election.
Republicans are worried about suburban districts where they could lose a lot of moderate women who may side with them on other matters, but are enraged about the treatment of these migrant children.
As for the president’s political base, well, his staunchest supporters continue to believe his every word —some have even told reporters that they believe the photos of crying kids taken along the border are all “fake news” and the coverage of their plight is all “lies.”
Mr. President, with all due respect for your office, you are the liar on this one.
You said the Democrats were responsible, but they weren’t.
You claimed the kids were brought here by murderers and thugs, but they weren’t.
And you said you could not do anything to change the policy of breaking up families on the border.