Innocent Infants

The Trump administration has begun separating parents and children who cross the U.S.-Mexico border. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

Innocent Infants

"Since October 2016, more than 700 children have been taken from those illegally entering the United States...Of the children taken, more than 100 children were less than 4 years of age."

....An infant crying in the night
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.
--Alfred, Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam

There is a certain amount of confusion about the reason for the practice, and even more confusion about whether the activity it is seeking to prevent is criminal or not. But one thing is absolutely clear. It is not the same as what the Nazis did in the 1930s and 1940s, when families were being taken to concentration camps. When arriving at the camps, children were sometimes taken from their parents and, in many cases following the separation, would never again see their parents. The families arriving at the camps were not undocumented immigrants. They were citizens of the countries in which they lived.

The Trumpsters are dealing with families that are neither citizens nor residents of the United States. The children they are dealing with are newly arrived in the United States. They are with parents who have arrived illegally and are seeking asylum. Like the Nazis, Trumpsters make no attempt to deny what they are doing. But whereas the Nazis had no need to justify what they were doing, the Trumpsters know that to avoid criticism, they must justify their actions.

It is hard on all families but, for obvious reasons, especially hard when children of that age are separated from their parents and placed in strange surroundings, surrounded by strangers.

The story in the New York Times describes what happened to a young woman named Mirian who crossed the board with her 18-month old son on February 20, 2018. When apprehended, she was instructed to place her son in the back seat of a government vehicle, and the son was driven away, both he and his mother crying as they parted. The 18-month old child was placed in a facility in San Antonio, Texas, and the only word Mirian has received is from a case worker who told Mirian that her son "cried all the time" after he arrived at the facility.

In a speech in Scottsdale, Arizona on May 7, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, explained: "I have put in place a zero tolerance policy for our Southwest border. If you cross our border illegally, we will prosecute you. It's that simple." He also explained how parents could avoid being separated from their children: "Don't bring them across the border."

The policy of separating children from parents seems harsh until it is explained by Trumpsters, and since early May, two Trumpsters have made public statements justifying the practice of separating children from parents. Both were broadcast on National Public Radio, the first on May 10, 2018 and the second on May 11, 2018. The first was an interview was given by Homeland Security Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen.

During her interview, Secretary Nielsen said that people who enter the country illegally are committing crimes and are criminals. In commenting on what, to civilized people seems like the inhumane practice of separating children, including infants, from parents, she offered an explanation.

She said: "If you as a parent break into a house you will be incarcerated by police and thereby separated from your family. We're doing the same thing at the border. . . . If you have a family and you commit a crime the police do not not put you in jail because you have a family. They . . . incarcerate you." Later in the interview she responded to the suggestion that separating children from parents at the border created a state of terror. She said that argument was the same as saying that separating domestic criminals from families when they are apprehended was terror.

She explained: "In the United States we call that law enforcement. We call that protecting our communities and our children. That's what we are doing." White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, also defended the practice of arresting illegal immigrants. He described it somewhat differently from Ms. Nielsen. In Mr. Kelly's discussion with NPR, he said: "people that move illegally into the United States are not bad people. They're not criminals."

That undercuts Ms. Nielsen's justification for separating children from parents. If Mr. Kelly is correct, comparing a woman seeking asylum to escape a desperate situation in her country of origin, with someone who breaks and enters a house or, perhaps, robs a bank, is nonsensical. Someone should tell Secretary Nielsen. Not that it would make much difference. The Nazis would not have stopped doing what they were doing if someone had told them it was creating a state of terror. Neither will the Trumpsters.

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