It’s hard to prioritize the issues before us these days … and that’s true almost any day of the week. Right now, the hot button issue seems to be the children separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border. In his Boomer Opinion piece, BoomerCafé co-founder and executive director Greg Dobbs says, let’s listen to a lady. A former First Lady.
The most moving statement about the separation of families this week came not from elected politicians, Democrat or Republican. No, it came from the wife of one, or to be accurate, the wife of a former official. Former First Lady Laura Bush, who always made us remember that her husband had a gentle side, wrote in The Washington Post that President Trump’s “zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. and it breaks my heart.” Many of us who deplore both the political policies and the personal character of this president have been saying with more ardor as his term drags on, we would take George W. Bush back in a heartbeat. Thanks to Mrs. Bush, it’s true now more than ever.
For Mrs. Bush, whom we can assume would not have penned her column without her husband’s consent, called a spade a spade. Other notable Republican women have only tried to diffuse the family separation issue. Speaking not even directly but through her spokesperson, First Lady Melania Trump said she “hates to see children separated from their families.” That merely mirrored her husband’s empty words a few days before. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on a Sunday talk show didn’t even acknowledge that there are any separations: “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.”
Oh my lying eyes. Period.
Forget Trump’s simplistic assertion that this sorrowful situation is borne of a Democratic law. That’s just another counterfeit claim by our lying president, who could fix the problem with a single call on his tweet-tattered phone or his oversized stroke of the pen. He and his attorney general started it; obviously they can stop it.
And forget his sycophantic supporters’ attestations — which, when you think about it, undercut his— that this crackdown is merely a manifestation of the President’s campaign promise. There’s nothing noble about sticking to a promise when it’s an appalling promise.
You can even forget about his advisor Stephen Miller’s explanation that what we’re seeing (with our lying eyes)— which also undercuts Trump’s contention by the way that family separation is the Democrats’ doing— “was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period.” (This administration sure does use a lot of periods). A friend of mine wrote when he read that, “You can just feel him calling on his inner Josef Goebbels.” But my friend’s comparison would be lost on Miller. “The message,” Miller says, “is that no one is exempt from immigration law.”
No one. Not even children, who had nothing to do with it.
Back in the 1980s, I covered a flood of asylum seekers from Communist Czechoslovakia who found a loophole at the border to get into Austria. Men, women, and children. After days of divisive debate, even Austria’s hard right, which didn’t exactly have a history of inclusion and compassion for minorities, took pity, and let them in. The children were the trump card. The oppression their families were escaping wasn’t their fault. The refuge their families were seeking wasn’t their choice. But they were stranded, and stateless. Sane, sympathetic arguments saved the day.
A few days ago on NPR’s “Weekend Edition,” anchor Scott Simon interviewed a woman named Sinthia. Her husband in Honduras had been abusive and ferocious, she told Simon. “He hit me with belts, electric cables, shoes, his feet.” So to escape from him, as well as from a judicial system that would turn a blind eye toward his abuse, she had snuck into the U.S. five years ago with her five-year-old son.
She thought she would be safer here. “I thought yes, the United States is a country of a lot of opportunities, and it’s a place where you can find help for people like me who are in situations like this.” Asked about Attorney General Sessions’ announcement that domestic and gang violence aren’t going to be considered grounds for asylum anymore, she responded, “I think it’s unjust, because we come to the United States looking for a better life because we’re in fear for our own lives.”
Oh her innocent eyes.
No doubt the President’s minions, and probably the President himself, would scream back at this unworldly woman, “Unjust? You broke the law to get here. You have no right to be here. You weren’t born here.” As if she was born in a hard-luck place like Honduras while they were born here in a freedom-loving law-abiding opportunity-rich place like America because they are smarter than she is… as opposed to just luckier.
And that is true in spades for the children.
Illegal immigration has been a hot-button issue for decades. The numbers of law-breakers who cross the border have fluctuated for decades. They have even fluctuated during the short course of the Trump administration.
The numbers fluctuate, but the arguments don’t. Hard-line Americans argue that immigrants cost them money. And raise the crime rate. And take their jobs. Sympathetic Americans argue that that’s all bogus.
But today, where children are caught in the middle, the arguments don’t much matter.
The Attorney General — when he defended family separation last week “because God has ordained” the law — proclaimed, “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.” Unless the weak and lawful are children.
Anyway, Sinthia put the lie to his logic. “Honestly, I accept that crossing a border illegally is breaking a law. But what would he do in my situation? And you want to live. You don’t want to lose your life. I would say, what decision would you make? Would you break the law, or would you just let yourself die?”
When it comes to Jeff Sessions, Stephen Miller, even the President, I’m not sure we want to hear their answer.
Sometimes, when there is no simple solution, we have to figure out which of the hard choices is best. The one Laura Bush would make is. The one this administration has made isn’t.
Greg’s book about the wacky ways of a foreign correspondent, Life in the Wrong Lane, is available from Amazon.