The Verdict is Guilty

by Steve Johnson

Remember the immigrant children incarcerated in cages at the border? Neither do I. That was so … June ago. Events move at the speed of light these days; under the current administration, some new outrage greets us almost every morning, distracting us from whatever incensed us the day before. Snub a centennial veterans’ remembrance in France? Shift the focus to allegedly incompetent firefighting in California. A caravan approaching the southern border? Break out the tear gas on women and children to show them we don’t stand for their nonsense. FBI raid Michael Cohen’s office? Shift the focus to NFL players kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem.

And on it goes, day after day, until the brains of even the most civic-minded of us are fried like morning bacon. There’s a strong suspicion that this is either a designed or instinctive Trumpian strategy — throw it all against the wall until you can’t stand to look or smell the wall anymore. Which makes it all the more important that we turn back to the kids on the border. Fifty or 100 years from now, historians will look back on the United States and be considerably less impressed by debates over corporate tax rates or sentencing guidelines than they will by the way officials reacted to immigrant children coming from Mexico and points south, including cutting loose tear gas on them, a chemical banned on the battlefield.

To refresh your recollection, more than 2,500 children were separated at the border under the administration’s zero-tolerance policy, announced in April. Despite a court order, more than 500 children were still apart from their parents as of Labor Day, with about 300 of those cases involving children whose parents were deported without them. Not long before Election Day, 245 children were still without their parents, according to the ACLU, which initiated the court action against the administration. But, as one humanitarian volunteer asked the New York Times in October: “Where are all the cameras now? The kids are still in there.” And immigration lawyers continue to uncover new separation cases that administration representatives justify using specious claims against the parents — Catholic Charities found at least 16 new, little-publicized cases.

I would submit that the family separation policy — and especially the way that it has receded from public consciousness — will leave a trail of horror for future generations. Some political analysts have compared it with the relocation and forced internment of some 110,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II. That’s an apt analogy, though families were not separated or broken through deportation in the way that the Trump policy did. Recall President Reagan signed a law in 1988 that apologized for the internment and authorized $20,000 in reparations to each survivor of the camps. I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility that an embarrassed Congress and president in the distant future might feel it necessary to take the same action for families split apart at the border.

In the meantime, it would behoove all of us to continue to pay attention to the plight of immigrant children, whether it’s forgoing a slice of pizza to send a few bucks to the ACLU or immigrant rights’ groups; calling or writing member of Congress; or just familiarizing ourselves with the latest count of separated children. "A society will be judged by how it treats its weakest members," said Harry Truman. And as it stands right now, that verdict is guilty.