The Border Concentration Camps

At any given time, for the past several weeks, the US Border Patrol has held more than 2,000 children in custody without their parents. Legally, border agents aren’t supposed to hold them for more than 3 days before being sent to the Department of Health and Human Services as they’re responsible for finding their closest US relative to house them while their immigration are adjudicated. However, in practice, Border Patrol’s holding the kids for days, sometimes weeks, in facilities without enough food or toothbrushes. And the children go for days without showering, overcrowded and undercared for.

Earlier this year, Reuters reported that asylum seekers detained in ICE-overseen private detention centers could buy toothpaste in the commissary for $11.02 per 4 oz tube of Sensodyne. Bob Barker doesn’t sell Sensodyne but does sell Colgate Cavity Protection by the case at $2.32 per 4 oz tube, and an off-brand sensitive toothpaste for even less. On the $1/day that detainees at Adelanto Detention Facility can earn for working menial jobs, the decision comes down to maintaining hygiene verses managing hunger. As Ramen is only 58 cents, over half a day’s labor at Adelanto. Meanwhile, employees of at least one company doing business with Border Patrol are speaking out against their CEO. In late June, 550 Wayfair employees staged walkouts outside company headquarters in San Francisco and Boston after reports of a $200,000 order including kids’ beds for a contractor known to work for detention centers emerged.

Low wages for undesirable work drive the US prison economy. Inmates serving long sentences at federal, state, and for-profit prisons hope to save enough money to call loved ones, send and receive email, hire lawyers and contribute to their defense, and send money home, let alone take basic care of themselves. As Racked reported in 2016: “But prison laborers are not commensurately paid. They’re not protected by OSHA. They’re forbidden from organizing into unions. They’re not eligible for workers’ comp. Inmates can be ordered to work for nothing. None of this is illegal.” Rules on what personal care items detention centers must give detainees are few and far between. In June, Justice Department lawyer Sarah Fabian argued in court that the law’s “safe and sanitary” stipulation doesn’t mandate that the government provide detained children soap and toothbrushes, a position baffling judged as well as anyone who believes in what constitutes as basic hygiene. According to the National Institute for Jail Operations (NIJO), touted as “your primary resource dedicated to serving those that operate jails, detention and correctional facilities,” soap, toilet paper, toothbrush and “cleaning agent,” comb, sanitary napkins or tampons, and lotion (if medically needed) “should be provided at no cost to inmates.” But the NIJO states these are only guidelines since laws and statutes are left to the states and jails’ jurisdiction.

Because detention centers don’t provide immigrants with their basic needs, many with the chance to work have no choice but to. As Reuters puts it, “Detainees are challenging what they say is an oppressive business model in which the companies deprive them of essentials to force them to work for sub-minimum wages, money that is soon recaptured in the firms’ own commissaries.” And yet, many detention centers are meant to be temporary facilities despite violating that promise by holding kids for months rather than days. As such, many don’t create opportunities to make income, however minimal. Though there’s at least one unofficial route for detainees. Although attorney Warren Binford told the New Yorker of a teen at Clint tasked by Border Patrol with maintaining order among the other kids as “an unofficial guard” in exchange for more food.

In late June, conditions at a detention facility in Clint, Texas became public. When investigators checked on US obligations under the Flores Agreement governing the care of immigrant children in US custody, they were so horrified that they turned whistleblower and told the Associated Press what they saw. Their stories disturbed the American public into national outrage that the acting Commissioner of Customs and Border Patrol resigned, despite officials’ denial. But like in most situations, the problem goes beyond one official or facility. The story gained even wider traction after New York US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s reference to the detention facilities as “concentration camps” and the ensuing debate over whether that term was appropriate (it is).

On Monday, June 24, 2019, officials confirmed that all 350 of the Clint facility’s children would be moved to other facilities by the next day. But about 250 have been placed with HHS and the rest were being sent to other Border Patrol facilities. At least that was supposed to be the case. However, on Tuesday morning, a Customs and Border Protection official told a New York Times reporter on a press call that about 100 children are currently being housed in Clint. Of course, that just illustrates the Trump administration’s hectic improvised response to the current border influx. But it’s a much, much bigger problem than what’s going on at a single facility. Since the problems investigators identified at Clint linger elsewhere as well.

One legal investigator from the Clint team visited the El Paso facility where many of the Clint children were sent to. Called “Border Patrol Station 1,” that investigator told Vox that conditions there were just as bad as in Clint and with the same problems like insufficient food, no toothbrushes, and aggressive guards. Thus, the problem isn’t the Clint facility, but the hastily-cobbled-together facility system Customs and Border Protection has thrown together during the last several months, as an unprecedented number of families and children coming into the US without papers has overwhelmed a system designed to deport single adults. Thus, it’s apparent that even an administration acting with the children’s best interests in mind at every turn would be scrambling right now. But policymakers are split on how much the current crisis is simply a resource problem Congress could help by sending more and how much is deliberate mistreatment or neglect from an administration or neglect from an administration that doesn’t deserve any money or trust. But come on, it’s most likely the latter given how Donald Trump and his swamp cronies peddle xenophobia and racism to his supporters.

According statistics sent to congressional staff in late June, between May 14 and June 13, 2019, US Border facilities housed 14,000 people a day, sometimes as many as 18,000. With most recent tally as of June 13, 16,000. Most of these were single adults, or parents with kids. But consistently, over that month, around 2,000 were “unaccompanied alien children,” or children held without adult relatives in separate facilities. In an early June press call, a CBP official said, referring to the total number of people in custody, “when we have 4,000 in custody, we consider that high. 6,000 is a crisis.”

Traditionally, an “unaccompanied alien child” refers to a kid who comes to the US without a parent or guardian. Increasingly as lawyers have reported and as investigators who’ve have interviewed detained children in late June, kids have been coming to the US with a non-parent relative and being separated. And because the law defines “unaccompanied” without a parent or legal guardian here, border agents can’t keep a child with a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or older sibling over 18. Though advocates have also raised concerns that border agents are separating relatives even when there’s evidence of legal guardianship. Under US law terms (especially after the 1997 Flores Settlement), immigration agents are obligated to get immigrant children out of immigration detention as quickly as possible, and in the least restrictive conditions possible while there. Save for emergencies, children aren’t supposed to be in Border Patrol custody for more than 3 days before being sent to HHS, which is responsible for finding and vetting a sponsor to house a child (usually a relative in the US). However, this isn’t happening. Attorneys, doctors, and even human rights observers have consistently reported are being detained by Border Patrol for days or longer before HHS picks them up. In the meantime, they’re being kept in facilities to hold adults for that time period, or in improvised “soft-sided” facilities that resemble (and are commonly referred to as) tents. Put the kids in blue Civil War uniforms and it’s a kiddie version of Andersonville (though that may be exaggerated).

Since late 2018, US immigration agents have been overwhelmed by the number of families coming across the border. Since the US immigration system was built to quickly arrest and deport single Mexican adults crossing the southern border to work, doesn’t have the capacity to deal with tens of thousands of families (mostly from Central America) who are often seeking asylum in the US. The length of time migrants are spending in Border Patrol custody (and the conditions there) have attracted some alarm before. In April, pictures of migrants held outside under an El Paso bridge, fenced in and sleeping on the ground, attracted outraged and led Border Patrol to stop holding migrants there. In May, the DHS Office of the Inspector General released an emergency report about dangerous adult overcrowding in 2 facilities: with 900 people being held in a place designed to hold 125.

The Clint reports broke when the Trump administration was already playing defense about its compliance with the Flores Settlement. While the administration’s working on a regulation that would supersede the agreement’s terms, which isn’t expected to be published in its final form until this fall and may well be held up in court. Anyway, in an earlier 9th Circuit Court of Appeals hearing about whether the administration needed to allow a court appointee monitor conditions for children in ICE and CBP custody, Department of Justice lawyer Sarah Fabian told judges that kids don’t necessarily need towels or toothbrushes to be in “safe and sanitary” conditions in a clip that looked especially bad when the Clint stories came out showing children being denied just that.

As The Atlantic explains, Fabian’s cringeworthy “safe and sanitary” argument came from the Trump administration’s awkward stance taken on this litigation: in order to challenge the court appointment of a special monitor, arguing there’s a difference between a promise to keep kids in “safe and sanitary” conditions (which the government has agreed to for decades) and a guarantee of particular items like toothbrushes. The court was unimpressed and the stories about Clint and other facilities coming out in the ensuing days certainly bolstered the case that the Trump administration has either willingly violated agreement to keep kids safe and healthy (which is more likely), or has been unable to keep it. Perhaps a mix of both.

What problems investigators identified at Clint such as too many people, not enough food, no toothbrushes, weren’t inherent to that facility. They were indications of an overloaded or neglected system. And it’s already clear these problems go beyond Clint. ABC News obtained testimony from a doctor visiting another Texas facility in Ursula and witnessed, “extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food.” She claimed the conditions were so bad they were, “tantamount to intentionally causing the spread of disease.” The children are now being sent from Clint to a facility that’s just as bad. According to Human Rights Watch, Clara Long who was the only member of the Clint investigative team who visited another center in El Paso known as “Border Patrol Station 1,” was mostly being used as a transit center where migrants were supposed stay for a few hours before being transferred. But she spoke to one family who’d been held in a cell there for 6 days and who voiced the same concerns that the kids in the Clint facility did. Long said the mother was ashamed for not having clean teeth. Since like Clint, the El Paso facility wasn’t providing enough toothbrushes that, “when she was talking to you she would put her hand up in front of her mouth and wouldn’t take it down.” The teenage son said he was afraid of the guards. Because when he’d get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, a guard had shoved him back into his cell and slammed the door on him. For 2 nights, the family had to sleep on the cold floor without blankets.

Most of the kids who were at the Clint facility the investigators visited in late June were set to be sent to HHS custody by the next day. But questions remain about what’s happening to the other 1,750 or so children in Border Patrol custody. That is, if levels remained static since mid-June and why the government could only place 250 children over 5 days with the agency that’s supposed to take responsibility for all kids within 72 hours. It’s not clear where the bureaucratic breakdown really is and whether it’s due to resource constraints or choices about how resources are used. The Trump administration has definitely made the choice to keep single adults in detention, even if it can release them. Border Patrol chief Carla Provost told Congress that, “if we lose (the ability to keep and deport) single adults, we lose the border.” This raises questions whether overcrowding in adult facilities could be avoided.

But it doesn’t address the unaccompanied children issue who simply can’t be released with an immigration court notice. While kids with parents in the US can be theoretically placed with them, the government is supposed to vet potential sponsors to make sure it’s not placing kids with traffickers. But that’s HHS’ job and the vetting doesn’t start until the kids are released from Border Patrol custody. Observers and policymakers agree that HHS simply doesn’t have the capacity to take migrant kids in. One Democratic Capitol Hill staffer compared it to a “jigsaw puzzle”: Not only are there only so many spaces available, but the facilities available might not match the child’s particular needs. For instance, you can’t put a baby in an HHS shelter for teens. But another Hill staffer that HHS claims it never refused a transfer for space reasons, muddying the waters.

Then there’s the question whether CBP is really doing all it can to care for kids in their custody. One Clint observer told the New Yorker stories of cruelty from some guards, indicating they were deliberately punishing children for the sin of coming to the US without papers. But she also claimed of many sympathetic guards and told the observers that the children shouldn’t be in their custody, implying they were doing the best they could and simply didn’t have the resources to do more. Advocates also said they’ve tried donating supplies to Border Patrol facilities but had their contributions rejected. As have other Texas citizens who’ve done the same. It’s not clear if Border Patrol decided this or if a 19th century state legal complication bans outside donations. Former CBP policy adviser Theresa Brown told the Texas Tribune, “It’s partially a constitutional thing about Congress controlling the purse and only being able to spend money that Congress gives, but it’s also about ethics.” Ethics? For God’s sake, refusing donations because of an outdated law doesn’t even hold water for me.

On Monday, July 2, 2019, a congressional Democrat delegation visited 2 overcrowded detention centers in El Paso and Clint, Texas. They were met by children and adults denied access to safe drinking water, kept in cold windowless warehouses, and were separated from their families. These were immigrants were hungry, scared, and hungry. One woman handed Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a clear plastic pamphlet of Meridian shampoo that the congresswoman tweeted, “[S]he told me that this is all they give women to wash their entire body. Nothing else. Some women’s hair was falling out. Others had gone 15 days without taking a shower.” Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues’ accounts accompany new detailed reports on the inhumane conditions pervading inside Border Patrol facilities, and about many Border Patrol agents’ online behavior, given that they police the grounds. While the law requires that detention centers housing children to be safe and sanitary. However, lawyer and child advocate Warren Binford told the New Yorker “And there is nothing sanitary about the conditions they are in. And they are not safe, because they are getting sick.” With reporting from the New York Times on “the stench” permeating the Clint detention center, an odor belying stained clothes, diaperless toddlers, and babies caked in dirt, questions emerge on the lack of necessary health and hygiene toiletries. The Meridian shampoo packet sheds light on what little the detainees have access to and more critically, what they don’t.

According to its website, “Meridian Clear Shampoo Packet, .35 Oz” hails from Bob Barker “America’s Leading Detention Supplier.” Using the Federal Procurement Data System’s records, Vice reported that US Customs and Border Protection contacted Bob Barker in at least 10 instances between 2013 and 2017. Line items for “Personal Toiletry Articles” are listed at $3,177.93 in 2013 and $0 in 2017. Among Meridian’s ingredients: Methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone, 2 preservatives that nonprofit Environmental Working Group report are associated with allergic and irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs. Lab studies on former indicate that the chemical may also be neurotoxic or, carry potential damage developing nervous systems. Bob Barker sells Meridian Clear Shampoo at $94.07 at 1000 packets, among the supplier’s cheaper offerings. Bob Barker also sells a lot of other products on its Personal Care & Hygiene, including body washes from Olay, Suave, and Dove along with bar soap from Dial, Zest, and Bob Barker-branded antibacterial. Oh, and they sell toothbrushes and toothpaste, 2 of the items that the New York Times reported aren’t distributed to the kids held at Clint.

Whether or not Border Patrol’s hands are tied in supplying detainees with basic care amenities, a secret Facebook group’s existence rife with hate speech indicates that some agents don’t have migrants’ health and survival in mind. On July 1, 2019, ProPublica released a report on a secret Border Patrol Facebook group around 9500 members strong, almost half of the country’s 20,000 Border Patrol agents. And as Ocasio-Cortez points out, where current and former agents make light of migrants’ deaths as well joked about inciting violence against Democratic congresspeople during their July 1 facilities tour, and questioned the authenticity of an Associated Press photo depicting a father and his 23-month old daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande after Border Patrol denied them immediate US entry in their asylum case. Post comments range from racist (“throw a […] burrito at these bitches”), to sexually violent (“Fuck the hoes,” not to mention a lewd photoshop of Ocasio-Cortez), and apathetic (“If he dies, he dies”). In response, US Border Patrol chief Carla Provost tweeted, “These posts are completely inappropriate & contrary to the honor & integrity I see—& expect—from our agents. Any employees found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable.”

However, it’s not just hygiene and nutritional needs that aren’t being met. The abhorrent living conditions seen in these reports show that some detained migrants find it nearly impossible to sleep. Overhead fluorescent lights remain on 24/7, intense cold temperatures blast the warehouse, kids and adults lie on concrete floors, sometimes under aluminum blankets, sometimes not. Without access to clean drinking water, Border Patrol agents have directed Clint women detainees to drink from the toilet. The lack of clean water to drink, wash hands, and bathe along with much needed medicine, combined with overcrowded quarters and poor nutrition have resulted in flu and lice outbreaks. Physician Dolly Lucio Sevier’s medical review of a McAllen facility in Texas, as ABC News reported, declared the conditions “tantamount to intentionally causing the spread of disease.” In May, a 16-year-old Guatemalan girl died at the McAllen facility from flu. And as of June 2019, 2 dozen detainees have died in ICE custody since Donald Trump took office.

In anecdotal reports, Border Patrol agents appears to have made certain health-related products available as needed. But as Warren Binford reports in one New Yorker story, the lice shampoo and 2 lice combs allotted to a group of 25 kids at Clint came at a great cost. “And then what happened was one of the combs was lost, and Border Patrol agents got so mad that they took away the children’s blankets and mats. They weren’t allowed to sleep on the beds, and they had to sleep on the floor on Wednesday night as punishment for losing the comb.” A 2007 Clinical Infectious Diseases article on jail and prison infections found that inmates pose a high risk of catching any number of diseases, including airborne viruses and treatment resistant staph infections. Jails and prisons weren’t designed “to minimize the transmission of disease or to efficiently deliver health care,” as California Correctional Health Care Services chief Joseph Bick wrote. “The probability of transmission of potentially pathogenic organisms is increased by crowding, delays in medical evaluation and treatment, rationed access to soap, water, and clean laundry” among other factors. Bick then adds, “the abrupt transfer of inmates from one location to another further complicates the diagnosis of infection, interruption of transmission, recognition of an outbreak, performance of a contact investigation, and eradication of disease.”

Congress is currently considering a package to give the Trump administration billions more dollars to deal with migrants coming into the US. To Democratic leadership, the solution to poor conditions in custody is to throw more money to improve them. They emphasize the funding’s bulk will go to HHS to increase capacity for migrant kids and that ICE and CBP funding will be strictly limited to humanitarian use. But some progressives, led in Congress by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, decry that giving any money to immigration enforcement agencies right now endorses the current state of affairs. The not-one-more-dime camp, in part, is taking a bright-line stance against child detention. However, in part, they’re demonstrating a lack of trust in the Trump administration to adhere to any law or condition. And they assume that any money for migrant kid transit will, in some way or another, encourage ICE to detain more families and arrest more immigrants in the United States.

On the other hand, the “smart money” camp firmly believes that without the funds to improve detention conditions, things will only get worse. That’s especially relevant in the case of kids “unaccompanied” who have to remain in custody until a sponsor is found. The past couple weeks have demonstrated that children are extremely vulnerable and that much of the American public wants their situation change. It’s not clear how.

Donald Trump as President Is the Real National Emergency

After weeks of battling over funding for a worthless border wall that won’t do shit, overseeing the longest government shutdown in US history, and finally signing on to a deal to fund the government, Donald Trump has declared a national emergency over a contrived crisis at the US Mexican Border. On Friday, February 15, 2019, Trump invoked this power in a unilateral effort to make progress on the stupid border wall Congress has previously denied him. Initially, he demanded $5 billion for constructing a 200-mile barrier at the border. Naturally, congressional Democrats have repeatedly refused to go anywhere near that number. In the final deal, he got about $1.3 billion for border fencing, far less than the desired amount. So unhappy with the money and not getting his way, Trump went to declare a national emergency to get more.

So where will all this money come from? Well, Donald Trump will try cobbling together from a number of areas and redirect them for border wall construction. According to White House officials, this money would comprise of $600 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund or money seized by the US government, $2.5 billion from the Department of Defense’s counter-drug activities, and $3.6 billion from other military construction accounts. Though Trump won’t try to take anything from disaster relief, yet.
Now the fact Donald Trump has declared a national emergency in addition to a spending deal isn’t surprising since he’s been wavering on the idea for weeks. So why declare a national emergency when he’s already got a spending deal? Because Trump doesn’t want to admit he lost. Since he’s already getting less for border fencing than he would’ve gotten in the bill he refused to sign in December and caused a 35-day shutdown over it. So he’s going for executive action instead despite that it’s debatable whether he can since no emergency at the border exists.

Since 1976, many presidents have declared national emergencies since there were 31 before Donald Trump’s declaration. However, the National Emergencies Act of 1976 only allows presidents to declare national emergencies in specific circumstances. So Trump can only use specific powers Congress has already codified in law. And he has to say which power he’s using. Besides, thanks to a little incident called Watergate, the 1976 law was meant to rein in presidential power and how presidents declared national emergencies. But it doesn’t define what counts or doesn’t.

Despite Donald Trump’s fearmongering about an influx of dangerous undocumented immigrants and terrorists at the US Mexican border, no such crisis exists. In fact, there’s no significant shift in the situation in recent days or weeks suddenly rendering such urgent action needed. However, we do have lingering crises with healthcare, opioids, climate change, aging infrastructure, family separations at the border, economic inequality, environmental devastation, right-wing and white supremacist terrorism, and more. But no. Besides, Trump has spent 2 years of an entirely-controlled Republican Congress to do something about immigration. While there’s been no significant shift in the situation that suddenly renders urgent actions unnecessary.

This isn’t the first time that Donald Trump has invented an immigration crisis when it’s convenient. Ahead of the midterms, he warned about a dire threat from a migrant caravan, only to essentially drop the issue after the elections. Sure, asylum seekers in the US have been on the rise, but seeking asylum is legal. But Trump’s not focusing on that. Congress won’t pay for his stupid border wall. And Trump thinks he’ll lose his base if he abandons it. So he’s creating a panic and going to any length possible to get it done.
Essentially, given the context, Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration is illegal and sets a dangerous precedent if it succeeds. Under Article I of the US Constitution clearly states, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” So only Congress can make such laws relating to public funds in non-emergency situations. Thus, no one person can seize control of our nation’s public funds. And even if Trump can declare a national emergency to get the money he wants, that’s not enough to build a wall. He also needs the authority of eminent domain from numerous unwilling owners, which must be expressed by the legislature. And there’s no clear authorization here.

This also puts a test on the Republican Party’s lack of willingness to stand up to Donald Trump. After spending years of complaining about Barack Obama’s overreach, they have so far deferred to Trump and encouraged Americans to do the same. But in this case, Republicans have expressed concern that Trump’s emergency declaration might lead to future Democratic presidents doing the same on issues like healthcare or climate change. Of course, their fears are well founded, since healthcare and climate change are actual national emergencies. The fact Trump basically declared a national emergency at the border before golfing at Mar-a-Lago for the weekend, it’s clear he’s abusing his power. Thus, Trump’s emergency declaration is an obvious fraud since in a real emergency, you act fast.

As usual, Donald Trump will likely face court challenges over this declaration and he’ll probably see it as some vast radical left-wing conspiracy that’s out to get him. While he deserves to lose, it’s possible he could prevail since courts often give presidents undue deference on immigration and national security issues. But should he win, it would set a very dangerous precedents. Again, he can also see pushback from Congress, which can pass a joint resolution to override it with 2/3 majority in both houses. But that’s not going to happen since the Republicans have control of the Senate and will do whatever Trump wants. Nonetheless, the fact Trump basically declared a national emergency at the border before golfing at Mar-a-Lago for the weekend, it’s clear he’s abusing his power. Thus, Trump’s emergency declaration is an obvious fraud since in a real emergency, you act fast. In fake national emergencies, you act when the political timing is right to cover your ass because you need to back down from an ill-advised congressional fight followed from an ill-advised campaign promise.

Of course, US-Mexico border security isn’t perfect. But the world is full of problems that aren’t “emergencies” in the sense of requiring some kind of urgent extralegal repurposing of funds. Nonetheless, by robbing the nation’s drug interdiction and military construction budgets for his stupid border wall, Donald Trump will more likely make the nation’s problems worse than better. Since fencing our southern border has been ongoing for decades and is subject to diminishing returns, with valuable sections already fenced in.

In the past couple of months, the real crisis on display is Donald Trump’s total incompetence you can see from miles away. For he doesn’t understand a policy agenda or get anything done. Without Paul Ryan around to drive a legislative agenda he could rubber stamp, he’s failing. First, it’s shutting down the government and throwing millions of people’s lives into chaos. Second, it’s reopening the government having gotten nothing he could’ve had in December while adopting a “Hail Mary” scheme that will only make things worse. Though it’s better than a real shutdown, we should all be worried that Trump can’t handle a real crisis if it’s staring at him in the face.

This whole stupid wall farce began back in 2015 when Donald Trump promised to build a wall across the entire US-Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it. Even anyone with half a brain could see that this was an extremely stupid idea that was wasteful and unworkable in every way. But somehow thanks to racism and xenophobia, Trump transmogrified his opponents‘ mockery into a test of will. According to him, the political establishment didn’t want to secure the border, but Trump did. And the wall was proof. Now that Trump is in office much to our nightmares, he has been confronting the reality that his critics were right in every way. Since Mexico obviously won’t pay for his stupid border wall, he needs congressional appropriations and the cost-benefit analysis is valid. Trump has long ago conceded that he can’t build a wall across the entire border since there are places where It’s infeasible and useless. Not to mention, he’s also conceded that there won’t be a wall at all, but the previous steel bollard anti-pedestrian fencing he had previously mocked is a useful barrier and that Border Patrol prefers its see-through quality.

Thus, on a practical level, this whole dispute is simply about the spending levels and construction pace of a type of border hardening that’s been underway for years. While Republicans think it’s important, Democrats find this border hardening rightfully wasteful. Any halfway competent president would see this as the most banal political controversy imaginable. Since if you want to get money for a pet project, you have to offer something to your opponents in exchange. But Donald Trump’s problem here is that the wall is such a terrible idea that his allies and staff know it. The sort of illicit border crossings that these pedestrian fences are supposed to prevent have already fallen to very low levels and the immigration conversation has moved on to other things like the treatment of asylum-seeking families from Central America. But because the wall is bad, immigration hawks don’t want to make any meaningful concessions to get it. Anytime talks seem to take off about some swap of help for DREAMers in exchange for wall money, the hawks swoop in with a bunch of other demands having nothing to do with the wall. That conservatives don’t want to make concessions on an inherently bad idea is reasonable. But at the same time, if your allies aren’t willing to make concessions on a bad idea, it’s better to let the matter slide, not throw a tantrum. But Trump won’t do that.

First, the shutdown and now the “emergency” both stem from the basic fact that Donald Trump will neither admit the whole spiel was crock nor decide to act like someone who genuinely wants a wall and make a deal to get it. Instead, everyone’s time and money will be wasted on litigation while money will be taken away from duly authorized programs and sent to a useless construction project nobody really wants. This isn’t the worst thing anyone has done in American politics. Hell, it’s not even close to being the worst thing Trump has ever done. But it’s arguably the most absurd. Not to mention, it once again raises the fundamental question about Trump. When you have a president who can’t handle relatively banal problems like a $5 billion appropriation for a pet project, what will happen when a real crisis hits? Oh, wait, he is the crisis.

Outcasts in Their Own Country

In the United States, it’s taken for granted that being born in this country automatically makes you a American citizen. After all, most Americans support the notion of birthright citizenship since it was established by a 1898 Supreme Court case brought on by a Chinese American man and by virtue of the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment. Most Americans assume there’s a clear-cut line between legal immigrants and undocumented immigrants, between citizens and noncitizens, and naturalized citizens and those native born.

On Wednesday, August 29, 2018, the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration have told “hundreds, even thousands” of Latinos born near the US-Mexican border that their US birth certificates aren’t sufficient proof of US citizenship to get their passports approved or renewed. Making matters worse, they’re being subjected to ridiculous document requests like baptismal records and insulting questions like “Do you remember when you were born?” Some are having their passports revoked and being thrown into deportation proceedings, or even barred from reentering the United States when they tried returning to Mexico.

Nonwhite and immigrant Americans already know that the Trump administration lacks any respect for them as Americans or as human beings. In this context, denying passports to native-born citizens can seem like racism at best and state violence at worst. Generally, the Trump administration’s immigration actions aren’t shocking because they’re unprecedented power grabs. But rather efforts to aggressively use the executive branch’s existing powers which simply have been used with more restraint in the past. As an escalating effort started by past presidents, this story is no exception. Since the Trump administration has shown a knack and xenophobic zeal for finding parts of the immigration system giving the federal government the most power and bringing their full strength to bear on already vulnerable people like South Texan Chicanos.
The new wave of passport scrutiny is specifically targeted at South Texan Latinos born near the US-Mexican border in particular circumstances. According to the State Department, “the U.S.-Mexico border region happens to be an area of the country where there has been a significant incidence of citizenship fraud.” This sounds very racist, playing into suspicions that even Latinos who’d been living in Texas before it was America aren’t even American, along with conflations of Latinos as well as legal and undocumented immigrants.

But there’s a particular history behind it, though racism is certainly a part of such policy. In the latter half of the 20th century, the federal government cracked down on South Texas midwives for birth certificate fraud like signing a birth certificate attesting to delivering a baby on US soil, when the baby had actually been born across the border in Mexico. Between 1960 and 2008, at least 75 South Texas midwives were convicted of fraudulent activities.

Of course, the problem is that these midwives also signed a bunch of birth certificates for children actually born on US soil. In addition, there aren’t easy ways to distinguish real US births from false ones, especially when most families in infrastructure-poor and poverty-stricken South Texas couldn’t afford a hospital birth. Confusing matters even further, some families reportedly received birth certificates saying their US-born children had been born in Mexico, to allow them to attend public schools there. Since before the last 2 decades, it wasn’t uncommon for families to frequently travel between the US and Mexico, or even split time between the 2 on a weekly basis.

In 2007, the US changed the law: from 2009, it would require everyone coming into the US from anywhere in the Western Hemisphere to show a passport (including American citizens coming from Mexico). As that change approached, area Latinos began complaining about their passports being denied due to their birth certificates deemed as suspicious. This resulted in an ACLU filing a lawsuit in 2008. The next year, the two sides agreed to a process by which passport denials to midwife-born applicants would be reviewed. One of the settlement documents was a sample letter requesting more information from the applicant to supplement the record. Some of the listed items were faintly ridiculous like baptismal records or evidence of prenatal care. But others were straightforward, if often difficult like requests for school and employment records.
However, even after the 2009 settlement, rejections of midwife-issued birth certificates continued. In 2012, CNN wrote an article about the matter. In 2014, NPR’s Morning Edition ran a segment featuring accounts of people having their passports snatched while trying to enter the US, being harassed by Border Patrol agents, and being forced to agree to their own deportation.

What’s changed under Donald Trump mostly seems to be the scope of the denials. Not only has there been a “surge” in new denials, as well as of people actually put into deportation proceedings (which ICE officials can choose to do when a passport is denied for absence of evidence for US birth. But they don’t have to do it). In addition, the government appears to have expanded its “suspicions” not just to midwife-signed birth certificates, but also those signed by South Texas obstetrician Jorge Treviño who delivered thousands of babies, often in home births before his death in 2015. Since the government has an affidavit from an anonymous Mexican doctor alleging that Trevino falsified a birth certificate.

But perhaps most importantly, this is happening under Donald Trump who doesn’t have much goodwill toward immigrants, Latinos, or white liberals. Thus, the report has raised concerns not only of the harassment facing particular South Texan passport applicants, but how broadly the Trump administration could challenge citizenship and voting rights of other groups as well. When most Americans see clear cut lines pertaining to legal status and citizenship, the Trump administration often sparks outrage for doing things that appear to cross these lines. They’ve arrested undocumented immigrants at their green card interviews. They’ve begun an effort to comb old naturalization applicants for fraud, in an effort labeled a “denaturalization task force.” They’ve tried to end DACA, putting its 800,000 recipients’ legal status in a constant state of uncertainty. And now they’re questioning the citizenship of people who’ve lived in the US for decades as native-born US citizens.

However, more disturbingly, in all these cases, the Trump administration isn’t crossing an unprecedented line. It’s just merely exploiting places where the category boundaries are murkier and often by building on what past administrations have already done. Generally, these boundary areas are where immigration officials show the most caution. They have the discretion in who they pursue and who they don’t. At the margins, they’re more likely to use discretion to show sympathy to people who’ve been living in the US and have roots here. Even if they could be more aggressive in trying to push them out. It’s possible that the government has changed its policy across the board on birth certificates issued by midwives or other “suspicious” practitioners or more broadly even people born in the US to noncitizen parents, though there’s no evidence of that. It’s also possible the government hasn’t changed its policies as the government claims, just fighting more of the individual cases falling under the process the 2009 settlement set.
But what makes Trump officials’ immigration policy different isn’t necessarily what they’re doing, but how aggressively they’re doing it. The Trump administration doesn’t have to deny every or even any application from anyone whose birth certificate was signed by a “suspicious” practitioner. Yet, it’s using the power’s full extent given by law. So it’s easier to put pressure on groups that already have been targeted because they’ve already been targeted.

Nonetheless, targeting South Texan passport applicants isn’t necessarily a test run for an inevitable expansion to widespread revocation of citizenship or nonwhite Americans writ large. Since denaturalization efforts don’t automatically call all naturalized Americans’ citizenship into question. This remains crucially true because targeted people have recourse to the legal system. And even South Texans whose citizenship is challenged usually win their cases though they have to appeal to federal courts to do it which usually costs thousands of dollars and time. However, that’s the other thing about pushing on those already marginalized. They’re the ones least likely to have the resources to overcome harassment or the support to call an end to the practice.

However, make no mistake that Donald Trump understands his base. Sure many working class Trump supporters have real concerns since real wages haven’t increased and those manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back. Not to mention, they know full well that their lives seem harder than their parents. But they also angry and want someone to blame. And it can’t be people who look like them since they see these money-grubbing robber barons as beacons of hope that their lives may improve, instead of the corporate con artists preying on their misery. In Hispanic immigrants and their children, Trump has a perfect scapegoat. Steve Bannon remarked in an interview that Trump won on “Pure anger. Anger and fear is what gets people to the polls.” It’s no coincidence that Trump once whips up fears by trying to strip vulnerable people of their citizenship and imply to his base these people shouldn’t be here and are right to be concerned about immigration fraud. We should also note how Trump got into politics by promoting birtherism and called President Barack Obama’s birth certificate a fraud after he showed it. Revoking passports may not be illegal, but they’re nonetheless dehumanizing, especially when the individual is a South Texas Latino who’s lived in the US their whole life.

An Assault on Decency

While I was on my Minnesota vacation, everything in my country seemed like going to shit. Before I left Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending the family separation “zero tolerance” policy. Though tempting to hail such measure as a victory since overwhelming public pressure and outrage forced him to do it. But the notion that Trump has “ended” family separation is a questionable matter of law. Children are still in detention camps with no sign of seeing their parents again who now face criminal charges and deportation for illegal entry. Despite that most of these migrants’ choice to enter the country illegally is more akin to Harry Potter’s choice to cast a patronus against a Dementor attacking his cousin. Most of these families were desperately fleeing violence in Central America and have already gone through the legal channels for seeking asylum. Yet, border patrol agents either turned them away or told them to come another day. Sure, they knew they were breaking the law by crossing the border. But they didn’t have much of choice to do so. And as Harry later found out, these people were essentially tricked into doing so by spiteful authority figures who hated them. There is no established protocol to reunite families and sign that his administration plans to do so. Nor does Trump’s executive order ban the practice. Rather, it merely directs the Department of Homeland Security to detain migrant families together instead of separating them. Such policy also poses legality question as well. Should courts overturn it, it’s entirely possible that family separations can start again.

However, the “backlash works” analysis also skips a more fundamental political question. The disturbing truth is that huge number of mostly Republican Americans were willingly to back such separation policy. In fact, they’re even more excited about the underlying policy of arresting every undocumented immigrant crossing the border a la “zero tolerance” policy giving rise to family separations in the first place. What’s most telling about this dark and cruel incident isn’t Donald Trump stepping back in the face of public outrage. It’s the millions of Republicans willing to support an obviously cruel immigration policy. In turn, points to perhaps the deepest problem in American politics in the Trump era, which is the lethal conjunction of white identity politics and partisanship has made the Republican Party willing to sanction injustices that had previously been unthinkable in modern America. It’s as if politics seems to justify anything at this point for them. As long as they get what they want in the culture wars, they’ll sell their souls to supporting a sociopathic authoritarian demagogue who cares nothing for them regardless of whoever gets hurt, how much he undermines American values, or the damage he’s caused in these United States.

While most Americans strongly oppose Donald Trump’s family separation policy, Republicans generally support it by a significant margin despite there’s a substantial minority who don’t. After all, massive margins of them usually favor Trump. Yet, this still means that millions of Americans back a morally grotesque policy separating children from their parents for an unknown period of time, possibly permanently. The fact most Republicans seem to favor this unconscionable “zero tolerance” policy illustrates the degree to which Trump’s position and partisanship has shaped Republican moral thinking. What’s more depressing is that the debate over family separation policy in its relatively early stages. So there’s a good reason to believe if Trump returns with the idea, Republicans will be more likely to support it, not less. If there is a moral crisis in American politics these days, it’s that a large contingent of Americans are willing to support morally indefensible policies from a sociopathic and unrespectable man for the sake of “law and order” or “national security.” Despite that a moral repugnant “zero-tolerance” policy at the border achieve neither.

Yet, if you doubt such shift in public opinion will happen, consider Republican opinion on the infamous Muslim ban. When Donald Trump first announced his proposal for a “total and complete shutdown” on Muslim immigration in December 2015, scores of prominent Republicans including his future Vice President Mike Pence condemned the idea in roughly the same moral indignation some Republican leaders have used to discuss family separations. A poll by the Wall Street Journal and NBC found GOP primary voters evenly split on the idea. But when it became clear Trump was likely to become the GOP standard bearer in March 2016, things changed. Exit polls from 5 states comprising of Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Missouri, and Illinois, found that Muslim ban support among 2/3 of Republican voters. When Trump actually implemented a version of the now infamous Muslim “travel” ban in January 2017, Republicans overwhelmingly backed him with 84% support according to a June 2017 poll. Hell, despite court challenges and its flagrant unconstitutionality on grounds of religious discrimination, the US Supreme Court still ruled in favor of it.

So what happened with the Muslim ban? Obviously, the clearer it became that supporting it was a core Trump position, the clearer it became that being a Trump supporter in good standing required backing the travel ban. When Donald Trump became the Republican nominee and later president, Republican partisanship became more about backing this unrespectable man. Of course, such behavior isn’t unprecedented among a president and their supporters. Since the more closely a policy is identified with the president, the more people from the president’s party are willing to support it. As Texas A&M professor George C. Edwards III told Vox, “The president’s association with a policy is an especially powerful signal to those predisposed to support his initiatives. By reinforcing his partisans’ predispositions, presidents can counter opposition party attacks and discourage his supporters from abandoning him. In addition, co-partisans appear to be resilient in returning to support after periods of bad news.” Under a normal presidential administration, this isn’t a huge deal. But when the president is a vile sociopath who only cares about enriching himself and his corporate backers while doing the minimal to convince his base that he’s on their side by enacting cruel policies that really don’t help anybody, you have a national crisis in American moral values on your hands.

Fortunately, the family separation debate didn’t actually go on for very long so far. Thus, public opinion didn’t have time to harden along partisan lines. The Trump administration sent mixed signals about what to think of it. Sometimes they claimed it’s a shame and the Democrats’ fault (despite it really wasn’t). Other times they justified it as necessary to deter more undocumented migration. Under these conditions along with the moral shock from headlines feeling fresh and some prominent Republicans like Laura Bush willing to condemn the policy, it’s easy to see why Republican voters felt comfortable opposing Donald Trump this time.

Yet, despite all that, millions of Republicans still supported this morally egregious policy of ripping children from the families and putting them in cages at a relatively significant margin. However, suppose the Trump administration resume family separations while Donald Trump provides a sustained defense in public appearances and tweets. Chances are that Republicans most likely will rally around him the same way they came to support the equally morally obscene Muslim ban. And what’s truly scary is that if Trump stayed the course on this one and allowed the media and public outrage to dissipate, he might’ve gotten away with it.

Nonetheless, if this was just a matter of partisanship and Trump support, it wouldn’t be the very assault on decency that it is. But it’s not. Rather it’s by going after overwhelmingly Latino immigrants from Central America, Donald Trump is playing on his political home turf like it’s “Mexicans are rapists” all over again. In 2015, two political scientists named Marisa Abrajano and Zoltan Hajnal published a book looking closely at the way mass Latino immigration was shifting American politics. According to Abrajano in the book’s summary, she and Hajnal concluded that the influx of Latino immigration had driven a large number of white voters into the Republican Party. This effect appears to track media coverage. When people in the news talk about the threat posed by Latino immigration such as Donald Trump talking about how Latino migrants are responsible for gang violence, Republicans benefit. Another group of researchers polled white Americans on how their view of diversity affected their likelihood of voting for Trump. They found that when whites were reminded that America was becoming an increasingly black and brown country, they were more likely to support Trump and favor immigration restrictions.

This is the crux of the moral crisis of the Trump era in a nutshell. The most Un-American and morally reprehensible parts of Donald Trump’s presidency such as his crackdown of undocumented immigrants, the Muslim ban, his shocking moral equivalence during the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia tap into the forces that are the most responsible for making him president. While stories of separated families in the media have wracked neutral observers’ hearts, Trump’s most hardcore supporters (like white supremacists and the Alt-Right) may very well have the opposite reaction. This intersects in a particularly dangerous way in partisanship for if Trump can maintain his hardcore base’s support enough to retain majority GOP support, he won’t need to immediately cave. And the longer and harder he fights for a policy, the more support for it will become GOP orthodoxy.

Disturbingly enough, it’s an established fact Donald Trump’s racial politics are genuinely popular with millions of white Americans who have significantly supported such vicious and morally inexcusable policies like the family separations at the border. It’s also a demonstrably and theoretically so that the GOP’s partisanship strength can enable Republican presidents to attract their party base’s support along with its political establishment. Both facts mean that despite the depravity of everything he says and does in the White House, Trump will always get the Republican Party to back his attacks on members of minority groups, given the time and effort. Indeed, ending family separation for now is a good thing and it’s understandable for liberals to pop the cork and call it a win. But the fact the separations happened at all and that millions of Americans were perfectly fine with them should trouble us all. This is especially since many of these children ripped from their parents will have to grapple with the traumatic implications for the rest of their lives.

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump has resorted to his race-baited fearmongering. During an event on Friday, June 22, 2018, he returned to his old argument about undocumented immigrants, highlighting families who lost loved ones to crimes committed by them. While losing a loved one to a crime is tragic, Trump held this emotionally charged event on “permanent separation” certain families have faced to undocumented criminals in an effort to shift the focus of the immigration conversation from family separations at the border. Granted there are undocumented immigrants who commit crimes. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that Trump’s event with these families is just a publicity stunt to capitalize on their tragedy. First of all, undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native born Americans and more likely to be crime victims due to their lack of protected status making them unable to call the authorities. But undocumented criminals pose no more a danger to society than their counterparts with legal status. Had many of these families experienced a loved one killed by a legal immigrant or US citizen, Trump wouldn’t be parading them for his own ends to smear an entire group of people as violent criminals to justify his morally inexcusable policies against them. As he said in the event, “We’re gathered today to hear from the American victims of illegal immigration. You know, you hear the other side. You never hear this side. These are the American citizens permanently separated from their loved ones because they were killed by criminal illegal aliens. These are the families the media ignores.” I’m sure anyone who loses their loved ones to undocumented immigrants are featured on the local news and maybe a spot on a Fox News show since they devour stories revolving around nonwhite murderers killing white Americans, undocumented or otherwise. Yet, here Trump seems to paint undocumented criminals as a special kind of evil they’re not which is an effective way to dehumanize a vulnerable population.

Even worse, not only does Donald Trump often blame congressional Democrats for “weak” immigration laws, his hardline stance on immigration makes it practically impossible to even the most bipartisan legislation for comprehensive immigration reform. Hell, he’s even in complete disagreement with members of his own party on how to solve immigration problems that he created. This isn’t an accident. As the crisis at the border puts the Trump administration under fire from humanitarian groups, Democrats, and even many Republicans as the biggest story in the nation, there’s a belief among senior White House officials, including the dead-eyed longtime adviser Stephen Miller, that fostering controversy is a winning strategy for them and that it will galvanize conservatives ahead of the November elections. Trump’s actions regarding ending DACA while sabotaging any chance for Congress to pass a bill protecting Dreamers is a glaring example.

Yet, that’s not the worst of it. In the wake of the family separations outrage, Texas US Senator Ted Cruz introduced legislation that would halt family separations and double the number of immigration judges from 375 to 750 to process detention cases more efficiently as the system has been backlogged for years due to a judge shortage. . In response, Trump extensively and derisively laughed off the idea of expanding the immigration courts as part of a plan to end the crisis, asserting that asylum seekers’ lawyers coach their clients on what to say so they’ll be allowed to stay in the United States. He said, “We have to have a real border, not judges. I don’t want to try people. I don’t want people coming in.” On Sunday, June 24, 2018, he tweeted, “We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came.” Apparently, Trump doesn’t think the immigration backlog is a problem. In fact, he doesn’t believe that undocumented immigrants should have a right to present their cases to immigration judges at all.

Since the Supreme Court has repeatedly maintained the due process requirements of the 5th, 6th, and 14th Amendments apply to everyone regardless of legal status, including undocumented immigrants. Thus, theoretically, if you deny anyone due process, you deny everyone due process. Not to mention, denying due process flies in the face of America’s basic democratic and moral values. At an immigration standpoint, this means we’re all undocumented immigrants because your documents are useless if you can’t show them to a judge while being identified as a suspect is the same as being guilty. For without due process, the government has all the power while the individual, citizen or otherwise has none.

In practice, denying due process to suspected undocumented immigrants would make all Latinos living in the US subject to the kind of hell akin to what those in Maricopa County were subjected in Joe Arpaio’s sheriff days. Except that instead of corrupt sheriff deputies putting them in a horrifying tent city jail with pink underwear, they’d be arrested by ICE and sent up on a one-way ticket to the country they at least allegedly came from. Many US citizens have already been arrested and/or detained under suspicion of undocumented immigration due to racial profiling by law enforcement. Because so many Americans already associate a Latino presence in their communities with undocumented immigration, especially where there aren’t many of them. Despite that a Spanish-sounding name and brown skin mean nothing as far as legal status is concerned. Do away with due process for undocumented immigrants and Latinos caught in ICE’s crosshairs will be unable to prove their legal status to a judge to challenge that claim. Even if they’re in the US legally or are a native-born US citizen who has lived in the country their whole lives. We should also take into account that 90% of those arrested in Arpaio’s deportation raids had legal status. But that didn’t save them for being suspected for illegal entry and having their constitutional rights violated by their local sheriff because they were Latino. But thanks to due process, Arpaio’s victims were able to prove his rampant abuse with racial profiling to get him convicted.

Nonetheless, this debacle over the family separations at the border demonstrates that supporting Donald Trump means leaving your spine and conscience at the door while having the gall to defend the morally indefensible and torching anything remotely relating to decency as “weak” or “reeking with political bias.” Though there is no question that Trump is a divisive figure, I am deeply afraid of the morally reprehensible policies his supporters are willing to tolerate and even agree with. As deeply disturbed I am about their loyalty to a man who will sell them out if he hasn’t already, I really want to believe they have some semblance of a political conscience or at least principles that they’d never be willing to compromise like the basic notion of democracy, equality, liberty, and civil rights. I want to believe that as polarized our country is that I have some common agreement with these people on key American principles. Not because I am a white woman who’s been alienated by her extended family, friends, and community by jumping on the Trump Train which almost cost me my access to Medicaid last year. But because I really find it difficult to believe that millions of Americans would be willing to sell their souls to support a vile and unrespectable man who’d put US Democracy in danger just to enrich himself with the presidency. Nor do I want to believe that the United States is so broken that the very notions of basic human decency become the source of heated political contention. However, I’m not so sure of even that anymore since Trump’s acolytes seem to stand by him despite all the morally egregious things he’s said or done, even if they previously seemed virtually unthinkable. And ideas I’ve long been taught and believe as basic principles of morality and American democracy now seem politically controversial.

There is no question that having Donald Trump as president poses a grave danger to the United States and the world since he’s a narcissistic sociopath with authoritarian ambitions who has no respect for the country he leads, its values, its institutions, or its people. Yet, what I fear most is what his presidency is doing to this country’s soul since a large contingent of Americans have embraced him as their champion because he says whatever inflammatory screeds they want to hear. And no matter what inexcusable thing he says or does as president, they loyally stand by him and enable his destructive behavior and policies against those who stand to suffer the most. But his entire presidency has been an assault on decency since Trump is an unrespectable man who has absolutely none as his moral degenerate words and policies reflect. Yet, the question isn’t whether his actions and rhetoric define who we are which they sort of do and since our country isn’t innocent from human rights violations separating families. But whether he embodies what we Americans want to be as a nation, which I fervently hope isn’t the case. For while Trump projects an image of strength, business know-how, and patriotism to his supporters, I see him as a manipulative swindler, shameless fraud, spineless coward, pathological liar, and an unrepentant bully with self-delusions of grandeur who has to surround himself with sycophants to enhance his gigantic ego and viciously rage on Twitter or settle petty scores when he doesn’t get his way. To me, Trump embodies the worst of America that it’s fair to see him as the current face of evil in the modern American life. As he stages his assault on decency along with the American values we hold dear from the White House, we must resist him at every turn as citizens. We must not normalize or legitimize his presidency. Nor let his destructive words and policies that undermine democracy with each passing day drag us through the mud. Donald Trump may be president, but he must not receive the respect his office entails him. Because he’s not a man deserving of such recognition or worthy of being referred to as “President of the United States.” His morally bankrupt character makes him only worthy of our scathing contempt and criticism that we should make known wherever he goes. And we must shame his followers to remind of our disgust over their support for such an unrespectable man they think is on their side as he stabs them in the back with his empty promises.

Do We Have Any Decency?

The more we hear about the Trump administration’s immigration policies of taking children from their parents, arresting their parents, and taking the kids into custody, the more they sound too cruel to be real. And the Associated Press has acquired internal Department of Homeland Security data covering the program from May 5-June 9. During this time, 2,342 children were taken from their immigrant parents on the border. That’s an average of 65 kids per day separated from their families and often sent to foster homes or held in detention centers. This might actually be an undercount since these numbers only reflect families separated when parents were sent to criminal custody for prosecution on illegal entry. Families presenting themselves for asylum by coming to a port of entry before being separated weren’t included.

While the family separation policy may be new, it’s nonetheless building on an existing system that attention to family separation has brought more awareness to the underlying problems within the US immigration system that have been going on for some time. For the past several years, a growing number of Central Americans have been coming into the US without papers who often are families seeking asylum. Asylum seekers and families are both accorded particular protections in US and international law, which make it impossible for the government to simply send them back. They also put strict limits on the length of time, and conditions, in which children can be kept in immigration detention. When the Obama administration attempted to respond to the “crisis” of families and unaccompanied children crossing the border in the summer of 2014, it put hundreds of families in immigration detention, a practice which had basically ended several years before. But federal courts stopped the administration from holding families for months without justifying the decision to keep them in detention. So most families were eventually released while their cases were pending. In some cases, they disappeared into the US rather than showing up for their own court dates.

As we speak, the Trump administration works to detain as many immigrants arriving in the United States without papers as possible. Even if they’re seeking asylum, which they have the legal right to do. But because a decades-long court settlement requires the government to release children from immigration detention “without necessary delay” parents taking care of them would have to be released as well. However, by sending parents into Justice Department custody for criminal prosecution, the Trump administration forces itself to separate parents from their children. Because kids can’t be detained with parents in federal jail, they’re treated as “unaccompanied alien minors” as if they crossed the border alone. Thus, as their parents are languishing in federal prison awaiting trial and sentence, the children are sent into custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services. As far as Trump’s cronies are concerned, this is a fitting punishment.

Yet, their logic overlooks the fact that when asylum seekers try to follow the law by presenting themselves at official border crossings to ask for asylum, Border Patrol agents often tell them they can’t come in. This isn’t an accident. For at multiple ports of entry in Texas to California, the Trump administration tells asylum seekers that they don’t have room to process them today which keeps people waiting outside for days on end without any indication as to when they’ll be allowed to seek asylum legally. According to reports, some asylum seekers are being physically blocked from setting foot on US soil, which would give them the legal right to pursue an asylum claim. So what choice would that leave them but to cross the border illegally and present their asylum claim to Border Patrol instead? And even families trying to seek asylum at ports of entry can’t be assured they won’t be separated anyway. While the Trump administration claims that it only separates families entering legally if they’re concerned about the child’s safety or feel there’s insufficient evidence that the adult is their legal guardian. But it’s not clear how they make that determination and there’s no proof they’re abusing that discretion either.

However, family separation is neither sudden nor arbitrary. The Trump administration claims it’s taking extraordinary measures in response to the temporary surge it’s entirely possible that this will become the new normal. From October 2017 to May 2018, it’s reported that at least 2,700 families have been separated at the border thanks to its “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. Though it doesn’t seem like all families apprehended by Border Patrol get separated, the pace might be picking up. The Trump administration has stepped up detention of asylum seekers (and immigrants period). But because there are such strict limits on keeping children in immigration detention, it’s had to release most of the families caught. So their solution has been to prosecute large numbers of immigrants for illegal entry, including in a break from previous administrations, large numbers of asylum seekers. That allows the Trump administration to ship kids off to ORR than keep them in immigration detention.

In theory, unaccompanied immigrant children are sent to ORR within 72 hours of being apprehended. They’re kept in government facilities, or short-term foster care for days or weeks while ORR official try to identify their nearest relative in the US who can take them in while their immigration case is being resolved. But in practice, the system dealing with unaccompanied immigrant children was already overwhelmed, if not outright broken. ORR facilities were already 95% full with 11,000 children held as of June 7. And according to the New York Times, the government, “has reserved an additional 1,218 beds in various places for migrant children, including some at military bases.” In fact, the agency has been overloaded for years since its 2014 backlog precipitated the child migrant, “crisis” when Border Patrol agents had to care for kids for days. An American Civil Liberties Union report released in May documented hundreds of claims of “verbal, physical, and sexual abuse” of unaccompanied children by Border Patrol.

There are also questions about how carefully ORR vets the sponsors to whom it ultimately releases children. A PBS Frontline investigation found cases where the agency released teenagers to labor traffickers. ORR told Congress in April that of 7,000 of children it attempted to contact in fall 2017, 1,475 couldn’t, which led to allegations that the government “lost” children or that they’d been handed over to traffickers. Though for the most part, it’s more probable that the families the ORR wasn’t able to contact deliberately decided to go off the map. Unaccompanied children who came to the US mostly consisted of teenagers with close relatives here to reunite with. According to a 2014-2015 Office of Inspector General report, 60% of unaccompanied kids were sent to their parent and 99% went to close friends or relatives while 1% were put in long-term foster care.

However, this isn’t true of children coming to the US with their parents who don’t have to be old enough to make the journey on their own and are separated from them. For ORR isn’t used to changing diapers. In May, the New York Times wrote that the government put out request proposals for “shelter care providers, including group homes and transitional foster care,” to house children separated from parents. One organization is placing children with Maryland and Michigan foster families and plans to expand to several other states. Some have fostered unaccompanied children but they’re not used to children who’ve just been separated from their parents.

While some families have been reunited, the Trump administration is sending very mixed signals about how families could be reunited and whether it’s even trying to make that happen at all. According to one ACLU lawsuit over family separation and immigration detention, a DOJ official told the judge that, “once a parent is in ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] custody and the child is taken into the Health and Human Services system, the government does not try to reunite them, and instead attempts to place the child with another relative in the United States — if the child has one.” But ICE and DHS claim that once parents finish their criminal sentences for illegal entry or reentry, they can reunite with their children in civil immigration detention while pursuing their asylum case. Nor do they seem to have a system to bring families back together. One flyer in Texas given to parents offered a number to call to locate their children. Yet, the number was wrong and didn’t lead to ORR. In fact, it was an ICE tip line. Even if a parent can call ORR and the agency can identify their child, they may not be able to call the parent back. Since immigrants in detention don’t have phone access (though federal judges urged the government to provide them so they can find their kids). Some parents face deportation without their children while some children are getting sent back without their parents.

In response to the outcry, Donald Trump has responded to criticisms on family separations, by claiming that a “Democratic law” requires him to do it, and that if Congress doesn’t like it, it can change the law. However, that is just Trump’s way to deflect blame and avoid responsibility since that statement is simply not true. Because there’s no law requiring immigrant family separations. The Trump administration had made the decision to charge everyone crossing the border with illegal entry and the one to charge asylum seekers in criminal court rather than waiting to see that they qualify. They’ve been asking Congress to change laws granting extra protections to families, unaccompanied children, and asylum seekers since it came into office. And they’ve blamed them for stopping Trump from securing the border the way he’d like (with a big stupid wall which won’t contribute to anything beneficial whatsoever). Furthermore, these aren’t necessarily “Democratic laws” either with a law addressing unaccompanied children passed overwhelmingly in 2008 that was signed by George W. Bush. While restriction on family detentions is the result of federal litigation. In this context, the law isn’t forcing Trump to separate families but keeping him from doing what he’d really want to do like sending families back or keeping them in detention together. So he’s resorting to Plan B.

Some Trump administration officials say they’re prosecuting immigrants and separating families to stop people from illegally coming to the US between ports of entry. This argument sounds like common sense since it allows the administration to avoid awkward legal or moral questions on trying to keep people out of the country. Yet, there’s no evidence this strategy works. While rolling out the “zero-tolerance” policy in early May, they claimed a pilot program along one border sector reduced crossings by 64% but they haven’t produced the numbers backing it up. Not to mention, as I described earlier, the Trump administration’s sending mixed signals about whether it wants people to use ports of entry to seek asylum legally. Since some asylum seekers have been separated from their kids doing just that while others were encouraged not to. Though they’ve promised to prosecute anyone who submits a “fraudulent” claim, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made it clear that he suspects many, if not most, asylum claims are fraudulent. The statistics the Trump administration uses to back up that there’s been a “surge” since las year sometimes count both people getting caught by Border Patrol between ports o entry and those presenting themselves without papers at ports of entry for asylum. The implication is that the current crackdown will reduce both. This implies that a point of this policy is to stop families from entering the US seeking asylum, period.

If you want to know how the Trump administration is justifying family separations at a legal standpoint, they simply claim that criminal defendants don’t have a right to have their children with them in jail. But the question is whether they have the legal authority to put asylum-seeking parents in jail awaiting trial to begin with, knowing they’re splitting them from their children. Human rights organizations including the United Nations have argued that prosecuting asylum seekers as criminals violates international law. Yet, no presidential administration has agreed with that interpretation since the Obama administration prosecuted some asylum seekers as well, just not as often or with the Trumpian dedicated zeal. However, federal courts have ruled that it’s illegal to keep an immigrant in detention in hopes to deterring others, instead of making an individual assessment on whether the immigrant needs to be detained. That might pave the way for advocates to fight back against family separation or at least force the government to start helping families get reunited after their parents have been separated. In the ACLU’s lawsuit victory in June, the judge made it clear that he believed that if the allegations against the administration were true, they might very well be unconstitutional on violation of family integrity, which courts have found is implicitly part of the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of “liberty” without due process of law. Though it has favorable odds, that doesn’t mean the case will succeed. Unless something else happens to change the policy before then, any opinion will be appealed and will likely go to the Supreme Court. Still, even if the ACLU does succeed, it won’t stop family separations at the border. The lawsuit argues that it’s unconstitutional for parents in immigration detention to be separated from their children. But not that it’s unconstitutional to charge parents with illegal entry and take them into a separate criminal court. A victory would merely obligate the federal government to reunite parents with their children once they’ve served their illegal entry sentence. Yet, whether the government can actually do that is another question. And for families, that’s less preferable than not being separated at all.

Though the Trump administration presents its crackdown as a temporary response to a temporary “surge” of illegal border crossers, it’s simply a return to normal levels of the past several years after a brief dip in 2017. To assume that the administration will be satisfied with border apprehension levels in a few months and wind down the aggressive tactics it’s started to use would be foolish. If we had a different president running a different White House, the outrage family separation has generated would result in the policy coming to a quiet end or at least curbed. Since it’s galvanizing not just progressives but also conservatives as well. But Trump’s administration rarely backs down from something because people are mad about it. More often than not, Donald Trump takes it as an indication he’s doing something right, even if he’s not. While Democrats scramble to propose bills limiting prosecution and separation, the issue isn’t inspiring the bipartisan momentum that Trump’s decision to end DACA last fall did. Thus, it’s extremely unlikely that Congress will pass a law stopping family separations at the border. And when it became clear the Trump administration was engaging in widespread family separations, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s vague and inaccurate comments on sending the kids to “foster care or whatever” were especially telling.

It’s possible that the Trump administration simply won’t have the resources to keep this many people in detention for so long or to keep prosecuting more and more people for a crime that’s already overwhelming federal dockets. Since ICE’s detention centers are already running out of space. Indefinite family separations will almost certainly overwhelm the already precarious system dealing with migrant children. Border Patrol and ORR won’t get the resources they need to address the new jobs they’re asked to take on by treating children separated from parents as “unaccompanied” kids. Yet, it’s also possible it’ll simply burn through the money it has and demand Congress for more in the name of protecting the US from an illegality invasion. The Trump administration knows it’s separating families and doesn’t believe it’s their job to reunite them.

Nonetheless, the cruelty of the Trump administration’s policies is almost impossible to imagine. Could you understand the parent separated from their child having no real sense of seeing them again? Could you comprehend the child stuck in a country whose language they don’t speak and in the care of strangers while their parents are gone? Such pain is incredible and traumatizing to experience. One Honduran man killed himself in his detention cell after Border Patrol took his 3-year-old son. CNN reported of Border Patrol agents ripping a breastfeeding woman’s infant daughter from her arms. A New York Times story tells of a boy who wouldn’t shower for 2 days or change his clothes after being separated from his parents and placed into foster care.

Yet, as much as the family separation crisis is about immigration policy and our country’s values, it’s also a health crisis. Separating parents and their children comes with considerable health risks. Every bit of a child’s health depends on a foundational relationship with a caring adult like their parents. When they’re separated, kids’ stress hormones start working overtime and are constantly on red alert. This causes disruption in the way that neural synapses connect with each other in their brain architecture. That can lead to developmental delay. Traumatized children develop speech slower, their motor skills don’t come along as quickly as they should, and they have difficulty creating proper attachments to other human beings. The younger the child is and the longer they’re in this kind of situation, the more difficult it is to reverse it. These experiences can have lifelong consequences like affecting a child’s ability to learn, being more susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse, and possibly could be at a higher risk of heart disease or cancer when they become adults. When a breastfeeding mother is torn from her infant, her breasts can be swollen and painful, which can develop to mastitis where the remaining milk can evolve into breast abscesses that must be removed via surgical drainage. Then there’s the fact that whatever children are telling social workers, doctors, or clinical psychologists at the border can be shared by ORR with DHS and federal immigration authorities. Under any other presidential administration this wouldn’t be a big deal since families were typically reunited during the Obama years. But under Donald Trump, the policy is increasingly used to detain or deport undocumented minors.

Donald Trump has implied that his justification for separating families seeking asylum, and his restrictionist ideology for even legal immigrants, is to prevent the United States from enduring what’s happening in Europe. For he falsely claims, immigrants there have brought with them a wave of violence that’s driving up the crime rate (except it’s not). He’s often referred to such outlandish claim as “politically incorrect” but that’s not it. Since he and key members of his administration are embracing what used to be a fringe theory held by the furthest of the far right. To these white supremacists, they argue that white people are being “systematically” erased by their inferiors, and thus require an influx of white babies and new white immigrants (at the exclusion of nonwhite immigrants) to survive. To some, white Americans and white culture, are threatened by a slow-running “genocide” via demographic replacement. Though this theory is just a bunch of racist bullshit with no historical basis whatsoever, it has adherents in the alt-right (which they evoked in Charlottesville with “You will not replace us”), across conservative media, and even in Congress and the White House. But such ideas are old, rooted in scientific racism and fears of interracial sex and babies once held by Woodrow Wilson and white supremacists alike. But now they play apart in creating government policy.

Donald Trump’s racism may be that of a 72-year-old man who thinks five nonwhite teenage boys should be executed for raping a jogger despite DNA evidence to the contrary. But his external racism is heavily influenced by adherents of an ideology that believes whiteness is the essential character of America (it isn’t), with direct and detrimental impacts on discussions regarding immigration policy. More importantly, Trump’s language and policies echo a worldview holding that whiteness is more valuable to participation in the American experiment than anything else, even a deep and abiding belief in American ideals.

While most of the GOP might not be comfortable using terminology like “white genocide” and “racial realism,” because many conservatives don’t share those views. They may see Donald Trump’s comments as elitist, unkind, divisive, and fly in the face of American values, even if racial issues aren’t on their priority list. But many on the right don’t see it that way as Jeff Sessions implements racist policies in the Department of Justice while Brietbart fans the flames of racial discord with “black crime” article labels and stories about imminent dangers posed by nonwhite immigrants. Nonetheless, Trump’s adoption of these racist views of the alt-right is at the core of the current immigration debate and has a direct impact on his immigration policy. In addition, it’s making the dealmaking process virtually impossible with Democrats and Republicans who desperately want to avoid any arguments racializing immigration policy. They want the debate about immigration to be about border security and genuine threats to American security, since it makes compromise imaginable even possible. But the debate over immigration is actually about a belief that nonwhite immigrants pose an existential danger to America and Americanness as a whole and that “demographics” require nonwhite immigrants to be expelled while white immigrants can be welcomed with open arms. You can’t negotiate with people who believe that an America letting in people from “shithole” countries isn’t the America they know and love. Despite that an America letting in people from “shithole” countries is exactly what America was built on for why else would millions Americans be here?

Keep in mind that Donald Trump’s core argument on his cruel and inhumane immigration policy is that reducing the number of foreign-born people living in the United States will leave native-born people richer and safer. This is full of crap which unfortunately many white people embrace. While Trump delivers concrete and material benefits to wealthy business executives in the form of tax cuts and industry-friendly regulations, what he’s offering to his white working-class backers is that cracking down on foreigners will solve their problems and that his willingness to suffer the condemnation by cosmopolitans is a token of dedication to their interests. In reality, it’s just a way for him to keep his working-class voters supporting him without doing anything to solve their real problems and possibly allowing his corporate allies to screw them over in the end. The kids held hostage are in large part, pawns in a game by which Trump is trying to coerce Democrats into backing sweeping reforms to legal immigration. The core of these reforms is to simultaneously switch the United States to what he calls a “merit-based” system, essentially raising the average educational attainment of legal immigrants while also cutting the overall number of immigrants. Yet, the net impact of this means reducing America’s GDP by about 0.3% in the long run while reducing overall GDP much more than that because the population is lower, meaning a more difficult time supporting the country’s retirement programs. Besides, immigrants contribute a lot to the American economy in way their native-born counterparts take for granted.

Then again, Donald Trump’s core pitch on immigration is always more about fear than economics, but here too, his politics are a disaster. While he often states how immigrants bring crime to this country, study after study shows he’s wrong. Mostly because immigrants legal and otherwise commit far fewer crimes than their native-born counterparts since they have a higher incentive to obey the law. Though gangs like MS-13 do exist, virtually everything Trump has done on immigration is counterproductive to addressing the problem of transnational organized crime. In its final years, the Obama administration ordered immigration services to lay off the vast majority of undocumented immigrants and target their efforts at apprehending violent criminals. Obama’s goal ultimately foiled by the courts and Trump’s election was to give work permits to millions and then have immigration law enforcement on the gangs Trump claims to be fighting. But immigration enforcement didn’t like the idea of being turned into some kind of auxiliary police force. They successfully stymied Obama’s efforts to concentrate on violent criminals, helped get Trump elected, and now we hear things like deporting 62-year-old permanent resident over a 20-year misdemeanor and a Kansas professor who’s lived here for over 30 years over a 2012 traffic violation instead of focusing on gang members. Even worse, by doing things like canceling Temporary Protected Status for hundreds of thousands of long-settled immigrants (like DACA), Trump is expanding the universe of nonviolent undocumented immigrants and making it that much less likely that law enforcement resources will be used against violent criminals.

Obviously, tearing children from their parents’ arms doesn’t poll well. But that doesn’t mean it can’t work for Donald Trump. His white working-class base sees a world where cultural elites have marginalized their concerns in favor of caring a lot more about the problems of immigrants and minorities because they see a zero-sum battle for attention and sympathy in which caring about immigrants’ problems means neglecting their own. Except that’s really not the case at all. Though such voters may not necessarily approve of the cruel treatment of Central American asylum seekers, but at the end of the day, the message that Trump is perhaps excessively cruel to foreigners emphasizes the notion he’s on their side. Except that he’s not because Trump knows how to deliver concrete wins to interest groups he cares about whether that’s letting health insurance companies discriminate against those with preexisting conditions, letting financial advisers deliberately give clients bad advice, letting chemical companies poison children’s brains, or delivering tax cuts that push profits to record levels. By contrast, nothing he’s doing on immigration will help anyone or anything. He’s got no answer to the rise of asylum seekers and is seeking broad policy changes that will lower wages and incomes. Anyone who knows a thing about Trump’s career, knows there’s absolutely nothing to suggest he has an aptitude for or interest in genuine problem solving. He’s a flimflam man who’s had to pay out $21 million for civil fraud in his fake university lawsuit before taking office and is now facing a new fraud lawsuit over his fake charity. This cruelty, too, is just a fraudulent branding scheme meant to make people who resent immigrants think he cares about them when he doesn’t. Immigrant kids will pay the highest price of all this deception. But in reality, nobody is going to gain, except Trump himself.

Yet, while Donald Trump and his administration may be bereft of common decency, ethics, or empathy, that doesn’t mean we have to be. While American history has incidents where non-white families have been forcibly separated, that doesn’t mean we have to put up with it. Nor do we have to tolerate immigration enforcement putting children in tent cities or cages. If we don’t want this family separation policy to define who we are as a nation, then we must speak out on this appalling cruelty and make our voices heard. Otherwise, do we have any decency?

The Children at the Border

Undocumented immigration has been a contentious topic in the American political landscape. But the more I know about the subject, the less I agree with current US immigration policy. At the end of May, a viral hashtag asking #WhereAreTheChildren sprang up on Twitter after the New York Times reported that the federal government hasn’t been able to make contact with 1,475 minors awaiting deportation hearings who many dub as the so-called “missing.” But despite reports to the contrary, these children aren’t really “missing.”

According to immigration experts, these children aren’t in government custody nor are they supposed to be. In fact, these are unaccompanied minors arriving at the US border without parents or adults who immigration authorities have detained and largely released into the care of parents or other close relatives. The government recently tried reaching about 7,600 of these children with a single phone call each. In 1,475 of these, the phone calls went unanswered.

But immigration advocates don’t find the 1,475 unanswered phone calls to the sponsors of unaccompanied minors particularly concerning. Because there are plenty of reasons why families might miss a phone call like boring logistics and more widespread fears of the federal government. A lot of these families have a pay-as-you-go phone number.

However, immigration advocates aren’t spending a lot of time worried about #WhereAreTheChildren. Instead, they think they worry significantly more about the Trump administration’s new policy of separating undocumented families apprehended at the US border. This policy has already led to more than 600 children being separated from their parents. And they fear it will create traumatic situations for families and overwhelm the very immigration infrastructure put in place to protect these minors.

On May 7, 2018, the Trump administration announced that it would begin separating all families apprehended at the border trying to cross into the US without documentation. An increasing share of border crossers seeking asylum come as “family units” consisting of at least one adult with one child. Though the Trump administration refers to them as “purported family units” as if to imply these people are lying about their family relationship. For it’s much harder for the government to detain whole immigrant families than it is to detain adults. Federal court rulings have set strict standards on the conditions under which families can be detained. Under the Obama administration, courts ruled that the government can’t keep families in detention for more than 20 days.

However, the Trump administration’s solution that’s now codified in policy is to stop treating them as families. This means to take the parents as adults and place the children in the custody of what Health and Human Services refers to as “unaccompanied minors.” In some cases, according to immigration lawyers, parents separated from their children have begged to withdraw their asylum applications. So they can easily reunify their families in their home countries. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has described this as a “zero tolerance” policy. As he noted, “If you cross the border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple.” When pressed by NPR whether this policy was “cruel and heartless,” (which it is), White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly answered, “The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever.” This is another way of saying, “we don’t give a shit what we do to them. We just want to use them as a bargaining chip to get them and their parents out of the country.”

But for families facing the prospect of “foster care or whatever,” the reality can deeply devastating. The Houston Chronicle once reported of a 28-year-old father separated from his 18-month-old son last summer at the southern border, crossing without documentation. The Guatemalan man mortgaged his land back home to fund his sick toddler’s hospital stay and needed to work in the US to pay off the loan. But border patrol agents arrested him for coming back after having been deported for a felony. They placed the toddler in a federal shelter, “somewhere in Texas” while the father was deported 3 months later. The man still doesn’t know where his child is to this day. Yet, hundreds of these situations play out as we speak for families trying to cross into the United States. The Trump administration estimates that it’s apprehended 638 undocumented adults trying to cross the border since the new separation policy began. They were traveling with 658 children. This is beyond other family separations that have happened. According to the New York Times, before the Trump administration announced the new policy, there might’ve been as many as 700 family separations. Keep in mind these people haven’t been convicted of crimes. Many are coming to the United States seeking asylum from the horrific violence in Central America, particularly in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, which has increased 16-fold since 2011, according to UN estimates.

Obviously, immigration advocates are worried about what these separations mean for the undocumented minors going into the United States. The most glaring is the trauma of losing parental contact, especially for the youngest kids. For these children in government custody, their main concern is how fast they can get to the person they see as a family member. For young children, it’s all they can think about. And these detention centers can be a tough place for children to live. Sure, they might have a bit of an education program. But even low-security facilities have barbed-wire fencing around them and monitored communication with those outside. This isn’t good for a kid. Most of the detained minors will be released into the care of a close relative as per the goal for those arriving unaccompanied and those separated from their families. Though those separated from their families might face more challenges since their parent is in government custody. According to ICE, unaccompanied children usually spend 51 days in these facilities with 93% released into a guardian’s care like parents and other close relatives.

But even then, separating families at the border could mean this group of children have a worse chance for making a case for asylum in the United States. Advocates worry about 2 distinct hurdles. First, the separation policy leads to more unaccompanied minors in the country and more children vying for limited attorney services from the pro bono firms typically taking their cases. Already, less than half of those kids get representation. That could have real effects on children since those receiving representation are 73% more likely to win in deportation hearings, compared to just 15% of those without. In addition, children are less able to defend themselves against deportation hearings when they can’t contact their parents. Because their folks likely know better why they believe their kids ought to get asylum in the US and be carrying the paperwork to back it up. Because the adults often know the full story since they’re with the kids the whole time as well as carry documents like birth certificates or police reports. But once these kids are separated, obtaining asylum is a lot harder mostly since the parents often face criminal charges in court at the same time.

Nonetheless, immigration advocates are torn on how aggressively should track unaccompanied minors like whether there’s actually a problem that there isn’t more than a phone call made to ascertain these kids’ whereabouts. On one hand, they want to make sure these unaccompanied children are getting the services and support they need like representation as they move through court proceedings on their immigration status. On the other hand, they worry about aggressive monitoring these children if the US means to use that information as a means to surveil unaccompanied minors to get info they could use against them in their deportation hearings. And because of all the other ways the Trump administration is enforcing these types of laws and policies to serve quite restrictive ends. If keeping track of these kids isn’t done with a more holistic goal of keeping these children safe and healthy (which is very likely), then we should be very disturbed by it.

Now the Trump administration didn’t start this humanitarian crisis. But it’s indeed exacerbating it. Members of the administration have framed the new policy as a way to deter families from entering the United States. As Sessions told a disturbed conservative radio host, “If people don’t want to get separated from their children, they should not bring them with them.” Donald Trump and the attorney general have erroneously leveraged the argument that “the law” is responsible for their own administration policies like family separation on the border. In reality they’re using their legal defense as a smokescreen to justify their inhumane immigration policies and to increase immigrant detention and deterrence. They assume that if they frame the policy as being, even if there’s no law requiring it, most Americans will follow.

However, legality isn’t equivalent to morality. The US has a long history of glaringly obvious xenophobic legislation and precedent. Numerous policies have excluded particular groups, most prolifically from Asia with their basic purpose to preserve a white homogenous United States. This systematic oppression and exclusion of immigrants has always been legal. Implementing a family separation policy to deter undocumented immigrants arbitrarily tears the sacred bond between parents and children. Such actions are brutal, offensive and abysmally fail to conform to notions of fairness and decency. The United Nations have formally called out the US for violating human rights standards over policy, which has attracted protestors in more than 2 dozen cities and 40 senators calling the administration out on it. With every single US policy like the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance,” we must ask ourselves: What is this policy’s real motivation? How will this affect those targeted? And is it morally just or unjust? If it’s unjust which I strongly believe, then we have a moral responsibility to counteract. And the first thing we must do is vote out whoever is responsible for creating them and their enablers. Immigration policies tearing families apart should never stand since it’s sheer cruelty. So now I ask my fellow Americans, where is your outrage?

The Insanity of the Snowflake Court

On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump was sworn in as President of the United States, which was a day that will live in infamy. Since then, he and his Republican sycophants have unleashed a series of unfortunate events which have undermined the democratic process, disrespected American values and civil liberties, and ignored the will of the American people. Not surprisingly, Trump has proven to be an incurious and incompetent executive as well as a friend to plutocrats and white supremacists. He has broken democratic norms and brought out the American ugliness that was meant to be buried all those years ago. He has alienated our allies and praised despots known to inflict atrocities on any of their citizens who dare challenge their authority. He has divided the country with his incendiary rhetoric, especially whenever someone publicly says something he doesn’t like. He has tried to delegitimize the media who’ve reported negative stories about him as “fake news.” He has surrounded himself with sycophants and crooks in his administration as well as berated and fired those not willing to put personal loyalty above all else. He has tried to undermine an investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia. And he doesn’t care of the consequences of his actions unless they affect him personally, despite the vast damage he’s inflicted with his cruelty. Nor does he take responsibility for his callous actions. It is impossible to list the scandals, controversies, and incendiary rhetoric coming from this man or his administration.

Since 12:01 on January 20, 2018, the federal government shut down. Republicans and Democrats are still stuck in a struggle to reach an immigration deal. On January 18, House Republicans passed a bill to fund the government for 4 weeks and extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program for 6 years, after Congress had failed to reauthorize the program for the last 4 months. But on a procedural vote late on January 19, which needed 60 votes to advance the House spending bill, 45 Senate Democrats and 5 Senate Republicans rejected it. Democrats are frustrated with Donald Trump’s unwillingness to accept a bipartisan to address the nearly 700,000 immigrants in legal limbo after he pledged to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. And they felt of having no choice or leverage but to reject the House spending bill to force DACA negotiations. Several Republicans working on the DACA fix joined in and are angry over the inability to cut a long-term funding deal for the military. Meanwhile, Republicans have pitted DACA recipients against CHIP despite that their majority failed to extend the program. Yet, Democrats still believe they have a compelling case for DACA after Trump’s latest tirade calling some countries “shitholes” in an immigration meeting with lawmakers. But so far, there has been no easy resolution. Though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has offered Democrats a shorter short-term spending deal keeping the government open until February 8 and promised to open immigration negotiations then. Now the mad scramble to fund and reopen the government begins.

Now a federal government means that a lot of so-called “non-essential” government activities suddenly cease. Federal employees are divided into “essential” and “nonessential” groups. Nonessential employees receive furloughs like an unpaid leave of absence until the shutdown’s resolved. Essential employees also stop getting paid but still have to work. But when a shutdown’s over federal workers usually get the salaries they went without. Likewise, a shutdown usually suspends various government functions. Military, air traffic control, federal prisons, Social Security and other benefit programs aren’t typically affected. However, the Office of Management and Budget estimated that the shutdown resulted in 120,000 fewer jobs and cut economic growth by .2-.6% in the last quarter during the last government shutdown in 2013 whose effects were substantial. Tax refunds totaling $4 billion were delayed. Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program went underfunded. Federal research activities at the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nearly shut down entirely. Environmental Protection Agency inspections halted in 1,200 locations. The Food and Drug Administration delayed approval of drugs and medical devices. National parks shut down, resulting in $500 million lost in consumer spending from tourists. And reviews of veterans’ disability applications slowed to a halt, with nearly 20,000 applications per week not being processed. So it’s a very serious matter.

It’s not unusual for Congress to go on the brink of a shutdown since it happened several times in Trump’s first year of office alone. But failure to actually make the deadline is rare. But since the federal government has shut down, Congress has to pass a spending bill. They have 3 options. First, they can pass the appropriations bills in an omnibus which crams 11 of these together into one spending package. Second, they can pass a “continuing resolution” funding government at its current levels to buy more negotiating time for the actual appropriations bills. Or third, they could pass a “CRomnibus,” which combines the two as well as extends the deadline on certain more contentious appropriations like the Department of Homeland Security and passing a spending bill on the rest. Though McConnell has proposed another CR, Democrats voted one down amid stalled immigration negotiations, which have recently intensified after months of inaction. So it’s unlikely they’d vote without some agreement on DACA’s future. Still, Donald Trump and the Republican leadership keep engaging hardline immigration hawks showing no interest in compromise. And his Orange Hind-Ass has reportedly told Senators Tom Cotton and Mark Meadows that he won’t support a proposal without these hardliners’ blessings. For Democrats, this is a serious red flag since their votes are needed to pass anything on immigration, which Republicans want kept out of the spending talks.

Naturally, both parties have spent the last few days trying to set up the other side to take the blame for the shutdown due to budget impasse. Republicans have made plans to force vulnerable Senate Democrats to take uncomfortable votes. Democrats claim that since Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House, not keeping the government open is their fault. At the same time, Republicans accuse Democrats of withholding needed Senate votes to press a resolution to the immigration debate impasse, even at CHIP’s expense. Of course, that’s ridiculous since Congress could’ve easily resolved the whole CHIP thing months ago. However, the truth is that Republicans didn’t even have the votes to keep the government open on their own. Yet, Democrats weren’t going to let the government remain open without a DACA deal even if Republicans had the votes. Nonetheless, after Lord Cheetohead blew up the DACA talks in the “shithole” meeting, they felt they had no choice and saw the spending bill as the best leverage. For both parties know that tying a DACA deal to a spending bill was the only way to assure its success. Because immigration hawks want to blow up such a deal from a bipartisan group of senators. So the hardliners and Republicans have dug in while Democrats have decided that now is the time to force the DACA issue. So the government won’t open until one side feels the squeeze and blinks. And it could’ve been avoided had Hamsterhair accepted the bipartisan DACA deal in the first place.

We need to remember that Donald Trump set the current crisis in motion last September when he revoked Barack Obama’s executive order protecting DREAMers from deportation. But he offered no guidance about what he wanted to happen next other than Congress to do something. His lack of clarity has emboldened the GOP immigration hardliners while raising immigration reformers’ hopes for a deal. Unfortunately, Trump’s intervening behavior ruined everything and left everyone feeling he might screw over at any moment. Nobody is exactly sure who’s shutting down the government or what the White House is trying to achieve by rejecting a bipartisan proposal that would’ve averted one. The country has mostly coped with Trump’s inability to do his job through outsourcing governance to congressional GOP leadership. But congressional Republicans are less unified while Trump is more invested in immigration than on most issues. So his actual personal leadership as president is critical for moving the system forward. However, the mere fact that these circumstances require Trump to act like a real president doesn’t change the fact he’s a lazy, ill-informed conspiracy theorist prone to tweeting cryptic statements about delicate issues from Fox & Friends segments.

As a candidate Donald Trump loudly, frequently, and obnoxiously promised to “build a wall” on the US-Mexican border and “make Mexico pay” for it. Of course, these ideas never made any sense since Mexico would never pay for such a thing. But once Trump won the election, turning them to actual policy imperative became important to the overall Republican Party. And the White House got behind the conceit that Congress could reserve funds for it that Trump would assert was some kind of advance on the nonexistent future Mexican repayment. But this left the problem of actually getting the money since congressional appropriations require 60 Senate votes. Not surprisingly, many Republicans were lukewarm on the wall all along. Thus, Trump was considering forcing a government shutdown to try to get his way. In May 2017, he tweeted, “The reason for the plan negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats is that we need 60 votes in the Senate which are not there! We…. either elect more Republican Senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51%. Our country needs a good “shutdown” in September to fix mess!” Obviously, this was a bad idea and other Republicans seemed to have talked Trump out of it. But the problem of getting Democratic votes for the wall remained. One natural way would give Democrats a big legislative win of their own. Yet, since a lot of congressional Republicans weren’t very excited about the wall, they’d revolt over giving away policy concessions of any real value. Then came an idea of canceling DACA allowing Trump to generate new leverage and give concessions on the DREAMers in exchange for wall money and leaving Republicans no worse off than they were before.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump has deeply hawkish views on immigration thanks to his personal and ideological racism as well as deeply ill-informed on all subjects aside from the art of the con. Besides, the basic problem with a DREAMers-for-wall swap is that the wall is a phenomenally stupid idea that wouldn’t accomplish anything to reduce immigration to the United States. Also, walls to keep people out or in have been tried countless times in history and have failed to do so. Not to mention, the billions of dollars spent to maintain and guard it which would make a wall a colossal waste of money. And if legislative DREAMer protections ended up creating a path to citizenship, it might actually result in increasing immigration since the new citizens could sponsor visas for relatives. Thus, better-informed immigration hawks like White House senior adviser Stephen Miller and Sen. Tom Cotton began working with Chief of Staff John Kelly to avoid the kind of deal Trump had repeatedly suggested and even at times explicitly agreed to in general terms. While hawks successfully scuttled a deal by souring Trump on a bipartisan compromise by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin, they haven’t introduced any plausible ideas of their own.

However, instead of negotiating positions, immigration hawks have produced a comprehensive wish list for entirely transforming the American immigration system to a tiki torch wielding white supremacist’s delight. They want billions of dollars in new border security along with the full RAISE Act vision of cutting legal immigration in half while ending family and diversity visas in favor of an exclusive focus on job offers and educational attainment. This is what Donald Trump means with his various asides about the perils of “lotteries” and “chain migration.” Consequently, there’s just no way Democrats will agree to these changes as the price for helping the DREAMers. There’s just a total disproportion between these demands’ scale and the DACA issue’s significance. To get sweeping changes in the immigration system enacted, conservatives would need to come to the table with some kind of help for the entire long-settled undocumented immigrant population. Like the kind of comprehensive immigration reform they’ve eschewed for years.

So if Democrats blink and cave into Donald Trump on the shutdown question, Donald Trump will get none of the policy changes he wants. He’ll have no change to diversity visas, no change to family visas, and no wall money. In exchange, he could start deporting DREAMers but the capacity of American courts to do so is already maxed out. Still, losing legal status will harm DREAMers in concrete ways. It’ll force some out of active-military service and others out of legitimate work and education activities. But those who’ve grown up and spent their whole lives in the US aren’t going to “self-deport,” and crowding the deportation pipeline with sympathetic DREAMers won’t help immigration hawks’ case. It’s possible that Trump doesn’t care and thinks hurting DREAMers is its own reward. If that’s so, he at least should admit that and let the country move on. Even if it makes him seem like a horrible person which won’t hurt him much. I mean low approval ratings and mass protests should illustrate that most of American people think he’s a piece of shit anyway.

The current situation’s perversity is that Donald Trump has always publicly maintained that he wants to do something to help the DREAMers when his actions show us that’s not the case. He has repeatedly used the word “love” in this context despite that he was perfectly willing to put 700,000 immigrants in legal limbo just to get money for his stupid, useless wall. Though his supposed willingness to help the DREAMers has raised expectations among Democrats and immigration activists that a deal can be struck. If Trump doesn’t actually want a deal, he may narrowly prevail on the government shutdown. Democrats from red states with low Latino and Asian populations won’t hold out forever in a futile effort to help DACA recipients. Had Trump had signaled opposition months ago, there probably wouldn’t be a standoff today. But if he wants a deal, he needs to seriously engage with the process and lay out some concrete ideas on the table. Instead, by veering from handshake deals with “Chuck and Nancy” to profane ranting about “shithole countries,” he has confused everyone on Capitol Hill and brought the political system to breaking point. And he thinks he’s a master in the art of the deal.

Nevertheless, we must note that Donald Trump’s remarks on immigration from “shithole” countries reflects a larger, more pervasive, and more dangerous viewpoint on the intersection of immigration and race. By referring nations like Haiti and African countries as “shitholes,” he’s not just expressing what some conservatives view as “politically incorrect” sentiments. Rather he and importantly members of his staff are embracing what used to be a fringe theory held by the farthest of the far right. It’s a theory claiming that white people are being systematically “erased” by their inferiors, and thus require an influx of white babies and new white immigrants (at the exclusion of their nonwhite counterparts) to survive. This viewpoint has resulted in the federal government shutdown. We must understand that the current debate at Capitol Hill has little to do with border security concerns. It’s about halting immigration, especially from nonwhite countries. In the final days and hours before the government shutdown, Donald Trump sabotaged a bipartisan compromise that was Congress’s best shot at passing a package that would’ve kept the government open and do something about the DACA program Trump ended last year, but wanted “fixed.” This would’ve given him much of what he wanted out of immigration reform like the border wall and an end to “diversity” visas. Instead, Trump turned toward restrictionists like Sen. Tom Cotton and White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller who has long influenced his attitudes on immigration policy. Miller’s silent hand on Trump’s DACA views was noteworthy enough that Sen. Lindsey Graham told MSNBC that his approach had, “no viability.” Breitbart fired back at Graham, running a piece which called him, “pro-amnesty” while referring to Cotton as, “the heir to Jeff Sessions’ pro-American immigration reform agenda.” Cotton has said that the “American people” like Trump’s and more importantly, his own “economic nationalist approach” favoring cuts on legal immigration, harsh penalties on DACA recipients and legal immigrants, and criminalizing undocumented immigrants’ status whose presence violates civil law. The language used by sites like Breitbart make it clear that this is all about mythmaking and fearmongering. As John Binder writes describing Cotton’s extremist policy: “By 2023, the Center for Immigration Studies estimates that the legal and illegal immigrant population of the U.S. will make up nearly 15 percent of the entire U.S. population.” The Center for Immigration Studies is an unreliable source for immigration data since its fonder John Tanton of embracing eugenics and reportedly told a friend, “for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” Now Tanton’s allies are attempting to put these ideas into immigration policy. And they wonder why Democrats aren’t interested despite the obvious white supremacist implications. Judging by Trump’s actions on revoking temporary protected status on DREAMers, Haitians, and El Salvadorans, I’m guessing he’s with the hardliners. Thus, as far as I see it, I don’t see any resolution in sight to this shutdown.