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Wednesday, June 06, 2018

They're going after the families, just not the way we thought

by digby

I wrote about this atrocity at the border for Salon this morning:

When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families! They care about their lives, don’t kid yourselves. They say they don’t care about their lives. But you have to take out their families.--Donald Trump

Donald Trump delivered many disturbing, un-American declarations during the 2016 campaign but that had to be one of the most chilling, immoral comments any American politician has ever made. He hasn't changed his attitude since he became president. The Washington Post reported this just last April:
The president...was reportedly shown a recording of a previous drone strike and asked “Why did you wait?” after the video showed the strike was delayed until the target’s family home was out of range... 
Later, when the agency’s head of drone operations explained that the CIA had developed special munitions to limit civilian casualties, the president seemed unimpressed.
He stated repeatedly on the trail that the families were "in on it" that "the wives know" etc and expressed the opinion that they had to be dealt with harshly in order to persuade the bad guys to stop their terrorist ways. He never explicitly said that we should remove children from their families but apparently he thinks that's a good idea too. He's actually put that form of "going after the families" into practice at the Mexican border.

The issue of children from Mexico and Central America turning up at the border unaccompanied and asking for asylum has been a thorny issue for some time. Those kids' parents sent them away to escape violence in their home countries and the US government has never dealt with it very successfully.

Under Obama they were housed in unpleasant conditions and the government apparently "lost track" of some of them, although immigrant advocates say that particular story is overblown because most of those kids simply ended up with relatives and fell off the grid. Nonetheless, at least the Obama administration understood they were dealing with a humanitarian crisis and made some effort to mitigate the problem, however ineffectually.

Something much more insidious is taking place today. On May 7th Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the administration's new hard line immigration policy:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that the Justice Department will begin prosecuting every person who illegally crosses into the United States along the Southwest border, a hard-line policy shift focusing in particular on migrants traveling with children...Federal prosecutors will “take on as many of those cases as humanly possible until we get to 100 percent,” he said.

“If you cross the border unlawfully . . . then we will prosecute you,” Sessions said. “If you smuggle an illegal alien across the border, then we’ll prosecute you. . . . If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”
I hope I don't have to point out that it's not a child's fault either. But that doesn't appear to concern Sessions or DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen anymore than killing family members to deter terrorists concerns their boss. Nielsen declared that Americans are separated every day from their children when they commit a crime so these people shouldn't commit crimes and it won't happen to them. Defining keeping your family together as "smuggling" is glib but it doesn't mean it makes sense.

Repeating this does not make it true.

There is no law requiring children to be ripped away from their parents. https://t.co/heVvNjaRth
— ACLU (@ACLU) June 5, 2018

These aren't members of MS-13, the violent street gang that Trump calls "animals" and loves to talk about in creepy lurid detail. In fact,  some of them are appearing at the border seeking asylum from MS-13 in their home countries. ( Many gang members are hardened into violent criminals in the American prison system and are then deported back to their home countries where they rule the streets.) Trump and Sessions don't have any compassion for those women and children for reasons that aren't hard to figure out. They hail from "sh--hole" countries and so in their minds aren't any better than "animals" themselves.

It is not a crime to appear at the US border and seek asylum. And yet they are essentially treating those people the same as those who have crossed the border from Mexico simply seeking work. Neither of these categories should be prosecuted as criminals but the former are especially vulnerable people, often women with their kids, desperately escaping violence and trying to keep their families out of the line of fire. They are allowed by law to have a fair hearing of their application and they are not getting it.

According to NBC News, they are so backlogged and overwhelmed that hundreds of kids under the age of 12 are stuck in various overcrowded detention centers and it's getting worse every day. Salon's Matthew Rosza wrote about about Senator Jeff Merkley's attempt to visit one of the children's detention centers last week-end only to be turned away. It's clear they're hiding something.

This podcast interview between MSNBC's Chris Hayes and the ACLU's chief immigration lawyer Lee Gelernt is extremely informative about the surreal nightmare of this byzantine system which is, of course, a feature not a bug. According to Gelernt, the government's Kafkaesque policy is to immediately separate mothers from their kids, some as young as a few months old, then rush the applicant through a phony hearing so they can deny their application and then prosecute them for committing the crime of illegal entry --- even though they openly presented themselves to the government to seek asylum. And even if they win their case, they don't necessarily get their kids back.

The whole point of this is to make examples of these mothers and children to deter asylum seekers from sh--hole countries from even attempting to come to the US. And this is in spite of both domestic and international laws governing the rights of refugees. Apparently, those laws are no longer operative in the United States.

Trump always said, "I will be very tough on families" but I think everyone assumed he just meant it to apply to families of suspected terrorists, not that that makes it any less grotesque and immoral. It appears that he meant it as a broad based deterrent to be used against all people he sees as enemies of the state. And he has administrators, prosecutors and an armed force eager to carry it out.

America's borders are officially a dystopian hellscape for foreigners. And Republicans couldn't be happier.