Splitting immigrant families for no good purpose is actually a time-honored American practice. Plus who can be surprised that the malevolence is being ratcheted up now, after Trump promised as much during the campaign?
This is not who we are, people keep saying.
One of our U.S. senators, Maria Cantwell, said this the other day. Like most everybody else, she was talking about the aggressive “zero tolerance” policy that’s separating kids from their Central American mothers who are trying to get asylum or otherwise enter America.
“This is not who we are as a people,” echoed a Seattle pro-immigration activist group, El Centro de la Raza.
“There is no other way to say it, this is not who we are, and it must end now,” said the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The one that really raised my eyebrows, though, was the former head of the Department of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson. He was responsible for border control during the Obama administration.
“This is not who we are as Americans,” Johnson said.
Oh? With all respect, it basically is who we are. The current president, Donald Trump, is of course ratcheting up the country’s worst impulses, far beyond recent past presidents, either Democrat or Republican. But there’s nothing new about America’s broken immigration system ripping apart families.
Direct quote from a column I wrote on the subject back in 2014: “In other words, U.S. policy tears families apart all the time.”
That story was about a Shoreline man, an admitted undocumented immigrant from Mexico, who was being deported — despite running a successful business and having both an American wife and a 1-year-old American son.
“They do it all the time,” his immigration attorney told me then, about the system splitting apart families. “It’s one of the cruelest parts of immigration law, and they’re about to do it again.”
Here’s another example, that of lifelong Washington state resident Elizabeth Valdez, a local case I’ve mentioned before. When her Mexican-born husband was deported, in 2014, leaving their two American children fatherless, she also had to choose: family or country?
“I feel like they deported me and my daughters too,” she told Univision on Monday about how she had to “self-deport” to Zacatecas, Mexico, just to keep her family together.
Now it shouldn’t be the least surprising that the Trump administration is escalating the cruelty, to the point that children are being torn from their mothers and put in detention pens. Because that’s what he said he was going to do in the campaign.
Trump was arguably the bluntest candidate in my lifetime about immigration. He talked repeatedly about tripling immigration enforcement and ending the so-called “catch-and-release policy,” which made an exception for immigrants with children to avoid splitting up families.
Just to make himself perfectly clear, he also called Mexicans “rapists” and this week talked of migrants coming here to “infest” the country, like vermin or insects.
His opponent warned what was coming. “I don’t want to rip families apart,” Hillary Clinton rejoined in one of the 2016 debates. “I don’t want to see the deportation force that Donald has talked about.”
Yet here we are, still ripping families apart, only this time complete with audio of the kids’ anguish. It’s both unconscionable and pointless, as many of the parents are simply seeking asylum. In the past we’ve had programs to keep families together during the asylum process. One was called the Family Case Management Program, which had a 99 percent success rate getting immigrants to show up for court appearances. But, right on cue, it was shelved by Trump shortly after he became president.
My point is, we voted for this. Maybe you didn’t, but our country wanted it — at least enough of it to put the malevolence into full effect.
It could get worse. Imagine if the so-called “deportation force” Trump at times talked about in the campaign starts rounding up the 11 million undocumented folks who have been living and working in the U.S. for years.
“Trump’s Approval Rating Climbs To Personal Best, Tying His First Week In Office,” reads the result of a Gallup poll released this week.
People really think this is not who we are? I admire the few brave folks like former first lady Laura Bush sticking their necks out to challenge their own country. Better angels and all that. But the other part is all American, too.