Trump backs down on border separations
Facing a growing wave of national outrage, President Trump this week signed an executive order halting his administration’s policy of separating migrant families detained at the southern border. Trump, who had insisted only Congress could fix the problem by changing the law, abruptly reversed course after Congress, religious leaders, many Republicans, and his own wife and daughter expressed dismay over photographs of children kept in chain-link fence enclosures, audiotapes of wailing toddlers, and reports that dozens of infants and toddlers were being sent to “tender age” shelters in South Texas. More than 2,300 children were separated from their parents following the Trump administration’s implementation in May of a “zero tolerance” policy requiring the prosecution of all illegal border crossings. “I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated,” the president said, crediting conversations with his wife, Melania, and his daughter, Ivanka, with helping change his mind. But Trump said the “zero tolerance” policy would continue; parents who cross the border or arrive seeking asylum will be charged and detained along with their children.
Condemnations of the separation policy poured in from such figures as the typically apolitical former first lady Laura Bush, who called the policy “immoral”—a view echoed by former first ladies Rosalynn Carter, Hillary Clinton, and Michelle Obama—as well as evangelical leader and Trump supporter Franklin Graham, who called the separation of families “terrible” and “disgraceful.” For days, Trump and his aides defended the policy, with the president falsely blaming the Democrats and immigration law, and insisting in a tweet that his critics want illegal immigrants “to pour into and infest our Country.”
What the editorials said
“When did caging kids become the art of the deal?” asked The New York Times. Trump created “this vile border mess” as a means to pressure congressional lawmakers, including Democrats, into accepting his demands for a harsh new immigration law. The president’s preferred House legislation would fund his precious border wall, “slash legal immigration by 25 percent,” raise the bar for asylum standards, and “consign Dreamers to permanent limbo by requiring them to re-up their status every three years.” It’s sad that jailing children and their parents together in detention centers is now considered “progress in the current immigration climate.”
Team Trump has no one to blame for this crisis but itself, said the New York Post. Children being ripped from their parents’ arms doesn’t just look terrible, “it is terrible.” When the U.S. government is “earning comparisons to Nazis,” it’s time to reverse course. While breaking up families is bad, said the Washington Examiner, giving illegal immigrants incentive to “drag their children through dangerous networks of human smuggling” isn’t great, either. To create a more orderly, humane immigration process, the administration should send dozens of lawyers and judges to preside over asylum requests, and to expedite the deportation of parents and children who are denied entry. It’s possible to show compassion while still enforcing “the rule of law.”
What the columnists said
“I don’t recognize this country anymore,” said Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post. Traumatizing children as a matter of deliberate policy “takes a toll not only on those arrested and detained but also on our own humanity.” Let’s face it: “The only way to rationalize these events is to view these immigrants as less than human.” Trump saw the children as “hostages,” said Frank Bruni in The New York Times. He badly wants Congress to fund his border wall, and was willing to use the “sight of caged children and the sound of their sobs” as “flesh-and-blood bargaining chips.” Trump’s Fox News cheerleaders defended this heartless policy, and polls showed many Republicans did, too. But the astonishing cruelty on display here deeply worried Republican elected officials, who fear it will fuel a Democratic wave in November. Separating kids and parents may turn out to be “a big political mistake.”
“When emotionalism meets scaremongering,” it’s tough to have substantive debate, said David Harsanyi in The Federalist. Comparing the fenced enclosures used to detain illegal immigrants to Nazi concentration camps is “moronically hyperbolic.” Yes, a policy that “fails to let parents know immediately, and continuously, exactly what’s happening to their children, is immoral,” but doesn’t justify the Left’s characterization of the U.S. as a “budding fascist state.” With their extremist rhetoric, both the Trump administration and its liberal critics are creating “a political climate that makes immigration impossible to fix.”
Do you know why Trump caved in? said Windsor Mann in USA Today. It wasn’t because his heart was touched. The family-separation policy had created a massive furor, and Trump “doesn’t like policies that divert attention away from him.” His goal is always “to create drama,” which he does by “inflaming cultural grievances and sowing distrust among Americans.” In that respect, tearing kids from the arms of their parents achieved its goal.
Trump’s executive order may end new family separations, but the government is currently operating with no protocols on how to reunite the 2,300 children already in separate shelters with their parents, said Jonathan Blitzer in NewYorker.com. Many of the children have already been distributed to facilities across the country. Believe it or not, there is no system “for keeping parents and children in contact with each other while they are separated, or for eventually reuniting them.” Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan was hoping to deal with broader immigration issues through dueling GOP legislation this week, said Siobhan Hughes in The Wall Street Journal. But with the GOP divided over “amnesty” for the Dreamers and Democrats firmly opposed to both bills, neither may become law. President Trump was already blaming Democrats, tweeting that “they want open borders, which breeds horrible crime,” while promising his supporters “I am working on something—it never ends!”
Cover illustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos from Getty, Newscom, AP ■