Las Vegas Sun

November 19, 2018

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Sun editorial:

With family separation policy, the U.S. takes a turn toward cruelty

Kim Jong Un must be smiling over what’s happening at the U.S.-Mexico border.

After all, the Trump administration’s policy of separating families has several things in common with the Kim regime’s horrific “three generations of punishment” rule, in which sentences for crimes against the state are imposed not only on the person who committed them but against two other generations of that person’s family. Like the offender, those individuals are banished to gulags where they’re forced into hard labor and may die behind bars. Unlike the offender, those people didn’t commit any crime themselves.

Kim didn’t dream up this concept on his own. Multigenerational punishment is a hallmark of repressive regimes, an iron-fisted tactic aimed at forcing citizens to obey the dictates of the state. The idea is psychologically brutal — if citizens know their completely innocent loved ones are subject to punishment for offenses, they’re far more likely to fall in line and stay there.

Now, compare that with the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on border crossings.

Since it was instituted in April, the policy has resulted in 2,342 children being separated from their parents and sent to detention facilities while the parents were detained for illegally crossing the border or, in some cases, seeking asylum.

Try to imagine the horror those children endure. Not only do they face the trauma and isolation of being torn away from their parents, they then must contend with the anxiety of not knowing what may happen to them.

Now think of the parents’ torment in seeing their children taken and not knowing if or when they’ll see them again. This is where Trump’s policy parallels “three generations of punishment” — making loved ones suffer.

In the best-case scenario, the children spend only a few days in a detention facility before the governmental organization responsible for them — the Office of Refugee Resettlement, an arm of Health and Human Services — finds and screens a family member or friend of the family who can care for them. But even then, they’re not with their parents.

And for the average kid, the stay is 51 days. That’s 51 days of living in a chain-link enclosure in a warehouse setting where, as reported by The Washington Post, health care providers and child advocates have “reported seeing toddlers crying inconsolably for their mothers at shelters where staff are prohibited from physically comforting them.” The Associated Press reported that in a facility it toured, the lights stayed on 24 hours.

No parent would want their child to be caged in one of these detention facilities — not for one minute, much less 51 days. Except for the most cruel individuals, no one would wish the experience on anybody else’s child, either.

But that’s where we’ve arrived under Trump.

And make no mistake, the motive here is to punish — and send a message to those who would seek asylum or cross the border illegally.

The administration has been all over the board in explaining its motivation, but its claims that it has merely been enforcing the law went up in smoke this week with the uncovering of interviews in which White House chief of staff John Kelly discussed separating migrant children from their parents. The goal, he clearly said, was deterrence.

“Yes, I am considering an order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network ... I am considering exactly that,” he said.

He added: “I would do almost anything to deter the people from Central America to getting on this very, very dangerous network that brings them up through Mexico into the United States.”

In announcing the policy in April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions had already indicated that the administration planned to use family separation as a weapon.

“If you cross the border unlawfully ... we will prosecute you,” Sessions said at the time. “If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally.”

Since Sessions’ announcement, the Trump administration also has begun using children as leverage to force Congress into action on immigration reform. But on this front, Trump is being obscenely duplicitous, saying on one hand that he wants to end family separation, but then Tuesday seeming to launch a pre-emptive strike on bipartisan legislation that would send additional judges to the border in order to ease the problem.

So in other words, Trump appears poised to hold children hostage for funding for his impractical border wall and additional border patrol personnel.

This is all revoltingly un-American and inhumane.

It brings to mind the timeless novel “Lord of the Flies,” in which children were presented in an allegory about the tension between human savagery and the order and decency that spring from civilization. In the tale, a fraught situation results in the weak resorting to brutality and barbarism rather than relying on the sense of order.

The child separation policy has further revealed that in the Trump administration, the U.S. is experiencing a “Lord of the Flies” presidency. Trump, never up to the task of leading in a moral, ethical and compassionate way, defaults to savagery and surrounds himself with subordinates willing to do the same.

And as in the novel, children highlight the world as it is today — and the base, animal impulses of the president of the United States.