A crying child on the border, hugging his mother's legs and begging not to be separated from her, breaks everybody's heart (except those with a heart of stone). Such a child, in a newspaper photograph, or 30-second video on television or online, sweeps explanations, discussion and all else away.
The image of a crying child is one that cynical Democrats can't wait to exploit when the public begins to pay attention to the midterm congressional election campaign, and that will be very soon.
We're told — by her official spokesman — that Melania Trump "hates to see children separated from their families, and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform." She believes the United States need to achieve successful immigration reform, and the nation should be a nation that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with a heart.
Laura Bush, the former first lady, agrees in an op-ed essay in The Washington Post: "I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart."
Mrs. Bush says it reminds her of the forcible detention of Americans of Japanese descent ordered by President Roosevelt amidst the hysteria after Pearl Harbor nearly 80 years ago. Michael Hayden, the director of the CIA in the administration of her husband, George W. Bush, goes her one better, saying no, no, it reminds him of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany during World War II, and the concentration camps where millions of Jews were killed simply for being Jews.
Fits of hysteria lead even the erudite and the educated to Hitler, usually quickly. The Holocaust was unique, and temporarily separating children from their parents, even placing them in a facility that was once a Walmart supermarket, is actually nothing like sending Jewish children to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Not even close.
But something must be done about the children of immigrants who broke the law to make it across the border, whether for political refuge or economic aspiration. If Donald Trump wants to do something that he can portray as a generous and humanitarian act before the pressure of public opinion forces him to do something anyway, he must put his lawyers to work on a solution now.
Taking a child away from its parents is deeply traumatic, and the effects might last a lifetime. Even when the parent is solely at fault, which in the event is nearly always the case, it's not fair to the child to make him the victim of bad policy. A child neither knows nor cares about policy, however beloved it may be by bureaucrats. Alone, confused, puzzled and terrified, a child just wants the safety of his mother's arms or the reassurance of his father's embrace.
"Right now," says Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard lawyer who has been one of the fiercest defenders of Donald Trump's civil rights (he's entitled, too), "this administration is allowing young children to be taken away from their arrested parents. The more important point is that President Trump, with one phone call or one signature can stop the separation of children and parents right now — today."
The claim by certain of the president's supporters, ever eager to defend him against critics of bad faith, argue that he does not have this power. But he does. "The president is the chief executive officer of the United States with the constitutional authority to see that laws are properly executed," says Mr. Dershowitz. Harry S Truman said it with pithy exactitude eight decades ago: "The buck stops here."
Neither Democrats nor Republicans are innocent of using the children as chits in an argument where human lives hang in the balance. Mr. Trump is eager to get the money from Congress to finish his border wall, which will one day, one way or the other, stand across the border to defend the nation's sovereignty and safety. The Democrats are determined to keep the border open, to take in malleable immigrants with whom they can transform the nation to the specifications of a soft welfare state.
Members of Congress will never fix anything if they think the fixing will endanger their re-election. They could fix the immigration mess in two or three days if they really wanted to do it. But it's useful for both sides to keep things the way they are. President Trump should do the right thing, or if the right thing isn't consideration enough, he can do the politic thing. No politician is a match in the public eye for a hurt and frightened child.
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