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Trump's heartless border policy is not without precedent in America

A Honduran asylum seeker at the US-Mexico border with her two-year-old daughter, who watches on as her mother is searched and detained. Photo/Getty Images

To understand Trump and the United States' inhumanity at the border, you only need to look at America’s history.

Americans I have met, and there have been many, invariably prove to be likeable, intelligent and decent people. How, then, can they have a President who dictates that more than 2000 immigrant children, at the last inadequate count, should be torn from their families, imprisoned in cages and left to fend for themselves? The New Yorker reports that “no protocols have been put in place for keeping track of parents and children concurrently, for keeping parents and children in contact with each other while they are separated, or for eventually reuniting them”.

It’s part of the Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance policy” that decrees all illegal immigrants and asylum seekers who cross the border will be prosecuted. It seems a matter of course that children under the age of 17 are almost immediately taken from their parents, declared unaccompanied minors and sent to detention centres of their own, where they languish for weeks, months or longer. One of the reasons for this, according to the Washington Post, is the authorities often do not have adequate details of the children’s identity, or know where they have been lodged, where the families are imprisoned or, indeed, how many kids are being held.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

Reporters who have seen some of the facilities where the children are being kept describe large warehouse-like buildings, with wire cages on bare concrete floors, the children sleeping on thin mattress pads with foil blankets and bottled water. Children change the nappies of the younger ones.

Former First Lady Laura Bush has publicly called the policy cruel, immoral and heartbreaking. First Lady Melania Trump has called for the government to show “heart” in its handling of the migrants. It is a little strange for her to go into print. After all, she could simply have told her husband her views over the breakfast table.

Still, US history shows how heartless the country can be. Its treatment of Native Americans, African Americans and Japanese Americans during World War II was abysmal. That it should now show its inhumanity to Latin Americans should be no surprise.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions strongly advocates the zero-tolerance policy, telling an audience, “I would cite you to the apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.” That may sound a somewhat odd reason these days, and even his own church disagrees with him. He attends the Ashland Place United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama, which declared in response that Christ “would have no part in ripping children from their mothers’ arms”.

Donald Trump, seemingly unaware that his administration is responsible for the separation of children from their families because of an order he signed and the fact that Republicans control the majority in Congress, told reporters on the White House lawn, “I hate the children being taken away … The Democrats have to change their law. That’s their law.”

No nation wants porous borders with illegal migrants flooding across, but it is the inhumanity involved in this treatment of the children of such people that is so appalling.

Trump is unmoved, declaring, “The United States will not be a migrant camp and it won’t be a refugee-holding facility.”

I could have sworn the Statue of Liberty has a plaque on its pedestal that contains the words:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

This article was first published in the June 30, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.