When Gen. Michael Hayden tweeted that “other governments have separated mothers and children” and included a photo of the Nazi concentration camp at Birkenau, some thought he was saying the U.S. was following Nazi policies. He wasn’t. He was simply observing that separating children from their parents was done in both cases.
Alluding to Hayden’s words, Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered an obtuse and irrelevant response, saying that “the Nazis were keeping the Jews from leaving.” Evidently Sessions thinks his comment proves that Justice’s policy of separating children from their parents is different, since the U.S. seeks only to keep these immigrants out.
But our current zero-tolerance policy does resemble U.S. policy before and during World War II to bar Jews who sought to come to the United States from gaining entrance. The quota for Jewish immigrants was small, and despite protests, FDR did not change it. As Rafael Medoff has shown in many articles, “by crafting a maze of bureaucracy and unreasonably rigorous requirements, these [U.S. consular officials in Germany]… ensured that most Jewish refugees would never reach America’s shores.”
Sessions concluded that “We want to allow asylum for people who qualify for it, but people who want economic migration for their personal financial benefit and what they think is their family’s benefit is not a basis for a claim of asylum.” Thus, he reaffirmed and acknowledged that it is administration policy to separate parents from their children, because he thinks it is a deterrent that will make immigrants think twice before trying to come to the United States.
There was another time in America when separation of children from their parents was an acceptable and legal policy. At slave auctions in the South, young children were bought by slave owners who did not bid for their parents. The pro-slavery argument was that the slaves did not have a stable family life or tradition and hence it was an acceptable transaction. Sessions even used the same verse from the Bible that slave owners once used to justify their actions.
One of the great historians of slavery, the late Eugene D. Genovese, long ago documented how slave families — despite their enslavement — were actors in determining their own fate, and “creative participants in a social process.” Although the law in the South did not recognize their marriages or family ties, men and women lived together with their own children as family units on most plantations. Slave owners encouraged families, since they found it easier to control men if they had a wife and family to worry about, and, Genovese writes, “agonized over the breakup of families, for they knew how painful it was to enforce separations.”
Still, family-shattering human sales were common enough when the money was right that after Reconstruction, “many thousands wandered over the South looking for their spouse or children.”
Now, the Trump cultists who defend anything the president does have come up with laughable arguments to defend the indefensible. Laura Ingraham, the Trumpist host of her own Fox TV program, The Ingraham Angle, called opposition to Sessions’ policy “faux liberal outrage” and said children are sent to facilities “that are essentially summer camps.”
Ingraham is a mother, and while there’s no sign she would send her own children to join these immigrants for the rest of the summer months, she also argues that the real problem is not the “summer camps” where children separated from their families are held, sometimes in cages, but the liberals making the confinement of the children into a “political weapon attempting to emotionally implicate the public perception of immigration enforcement.”
In our current sick political climate, the Trump administration and its sycophants are defending the indefensible. How ironic that as I write this on June 19, the country celebrates “Juneteenth,” the anniversary of the day in 1865 on which emancipation was celebrated.
Trump seems like he’s trying to find a way out of the sick trap that Sessions set up on his behalf and with his blessing, telling House Republicans on Tuesday that Ivanka would really like them to undo what her father has done.
Policy starts at the top, and the president should order an end to his administration’s morally obscene separation policy.