Locking Up Babies and Other Immigration Nightmares

On Becoming Monsters: Trump, Sessions, and Miller Advance Their Policy of Hate

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainment facility in Santa Maria, CA.
Paul Wellman (file)

BE AFRAID: Sometime before Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, the Trump administration initiated a brand-new policy that, so far, has separated 2,342 immigrant children from their parents as the families were allegedly crossing the border illegally. The children have been designated as “unaccompanied alien minors” and placed in separate facilities. Their parents are arrested. Predictably, Trump has blamed the Democrats, charging they forced him to do this because they have steadfastly refused to talk turkey on immigration reform.

With Trump, the point has never been to solve the problem; it’s been to hate it.

By now, we have all likely heard the tape recordings, courtesy of ProPublica reporters, of these very young prisoners crying as they are physically separated from their parents and housed in “tender age” camps. By now, we’ve also heard Homeland Security officials insist these children are not being detained in “cages” but in “chain-link partition” holding areas. And by now, most of us have heard the unnamed Border Patrol officer making light of the crying kids. “Well, we have an orchestra here,” he said. “What’s missing is a conductor.”

Unfortunately, he’s wrong. The conductor is the president of the United States. This Wednesday, the conductor was forced to change his tune, bowing to overwhelming outrage from all quarters. He will now “allow” families to remain intact.

Let there be no confusion. This is a brand-new and unprecedented enforcement approach superimposed onto an existing immigration policy that’s 20 years old. Even when the United States was rounding up Japanese Americans during World War II and putting them in barbed-wire internment camps, families were kept intact. The Trump plan was hatched in April by Trump advisor Stephen Miller explicitly to deter immigrants from attempting to cross the border with their families.

As with most things Trump says, his blaming the Democrats was not tainted by any semblance of the truth. Earlier this year Democrats and Republicans had, in fact, been negotiating immigration reform. At that time, the same Stephen Miller inserted himself into the process to sabotage those talks.

It’s never been about fixing anything; it’s always been about hating everything.

And Miller ​— ​one of the breathtakingly shameless douche-brah bad boys Trump surrounds himself with ​— ​is a gifted hater. Miller cut his teeth working as communications director for Attorney General Jeff Sessions back when Sessions was still a member of the Senate. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, one of the most ardent anti-immigrant hawks Congress has ever seen, was one of the first senators to jump on board the Trump bandwagon. As soon as Trump branded all Mexican immigrants as “rapists” in his campaign kickoff speech, Sessions was smitten.

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) van in Santa Maria, CA.
Paul Wellman (file)

I am not now nor have I ever been remotely religious. But even I was morally offended when the mewly-mouthed Sessions ​— ​America’s answer to Heinrich Himmler ​— ​resorted to quoting Saint Paul to defend the indefensible. He chose a familiar passage, one used in Hitler’s Germany and to defend slavery right here on home ground. He might have been better served if he had relied on the words of Jesus, according to Saint Matthew: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me,” wrote the apostle. “If anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their necks and be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

Why is it that whenever you need a large millstone, you can never find one?

One thing we know as a definite fact: Trump’s approach, if continued, would result in creating the “monsters” he cites to justify his despicable policy in the first place. Psychologists, educators, and criminologists all recognize that the scars inflicted by taking young children away from their parents never heal. Some people talk about the “Romanian orphan syndrome.” Others refer, more clinically, to “reactive attachment disorder” or RAD. I knew a couple who adopted a couple of RAD babies from Russia. By the time the girl was in 1st grade, she was sexually terrorizing the other kids on the school bus while also stealing their lunches. The boy was less dramatic, but still ​— ​his behavior made his parents hide the knives at night.

About 10 years ago, I covered the trial of a beloved Santa Barbara day-care provider who locked up two of her four foster children in cages. She provided them buckets for urination and defecation. When they came to stink too much, she hosed them off in the backyard. As usual, there were plenty of warning signs. In her defense, the woman claimed the cages were necessary because two of the foster kids were RAD babies. One, she insisted, sexually assaulted not only his 9-year-old sister but the family cat. At the time, such assertions were regarded with doubt. Since then, that particular foster child has been arrested for raping someone in a city elevator. For caging her kids, the day-care provider was sentenced to 10 years; she served one.

Immigration, we are all told, needs “fixing.” Like everyone, I agree, but have no idea what that actually means. But I do know hating hasn’t worked.

In this context, it’s reassuring, I suppose, to know we still have the capacity to be horrified. This time it made a difference.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainment facility in Santa Maria, CA.
Paul Wellman (file)


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