De­tained chil­dren should be re­leased, not used as po­lit­i­cal pawns

Lodi News-Sentinel - - OPINION -

When faced with two women who each claimed to be the mother of the same child, King Solomon an­nounced that he would slice the child in two and give half to each claimant.

One wo­man was pleased. The other wailed in sorrow, and begged the king to give the child to her op­po­nent.

Solomon im­me­di­ately un­der­stood that the wo­man who wanted to save the child even though it meant she’d lose him was the true mother.

There are no Solomons among us to­day. Chil­dren are once again be­ing used as pawns and com­modi­ties in our na­tional im­mi­gra­tion de­bate, and the adults are fight­ing to gain philo­soph­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage at their expense. The bat­tles are waged on so­cial me­dia, on the pages of our na­tional and lo­cal news­pa­pers, in our homes and, most re­gret­tably, in the halls of Congress.

Alexan­dria Oca­sioCortez calls the de­ten­tion cen­ters which hold im­mi­grant chil­dren “con­cen­tra­tion camps,” evok­ing the ghosts of mil­lions of dead Jews, and she is rightly criticized by all de­cent peo­ple for that ma­nip­u­la­tion of his­tory and language. While the literal term “con­cen­tra­tion camp” could be stretched to in­clude a fa­cil­ity where peo­ple are not able to leave and are held in tem­po­rary hous­ing un­til their le­gal sta­tus is estab­lished, the con­gress­woman’s in­ten­tion was to equate what is go­ing on at the bor­der with Nazi

death camps.

This was not lost on the

United

States

Holo­caust

Mu­seum, whose spokesper­son noted that it “unequiv­o­cally re­jects ef­forts to cre­ate analo­gies be­tween the Holo­caust and other events, whether his­tor­i­cal or con­tem­po­rary.”

But the fact re­mains that chil­dren are be­ing held in places where they are not getting enough food, wa­ter, clean cloth­ing, blan­kets, hy­gienic items and — most im­por­tantly — con­tact with car­ing hu­mans.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump points to the fact that his pre­de­ces­sor was the one who ini­ti­ated a pro­gram that sep­a­rated chil­dren from their par­ents, which is tech­ni­cally true. But when you dig a lit­tle deeper, you re­al­ize that Obama’s plan was spo­radic, while the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion made a sus­tained pol­icy de­ci­sion to sep­a­rate fam­i­lies as a dis­in­cen­tive to cross the bor­der.

Congress dithers about solv­ing the cri­sis at the bor­der, with one side in­sist­ing on pour­ing money into a wall and re­fus­ing to en­gage in good-faith so­lu­tions for le­gal­iza­tion, while the other side calls their op­po­nents racists, evok­ing im­agery of Nazi camps. And then, when the House fi­nally reaches a con­sen­sus about fund­ing to pro­vide the de­tained chil­dren with the ne­ces­si­ties we reg­u­larly give to pris­on­ers and ac­cused ter­ror­ists at Guan­tanamo, only a hand­ful of Repub­li­cans voted in fa­vor of the bill be­cause the pack­age didn’t in­clude any­thing for bor­der se­cu­rity. Then late Thurs­day, the Se­nate’s ver­sion of the bill was signed onto by a re­luc­tant Nancy Pelosi, guar­an­tee­ing that some money and sup­port will reach the chil­dren.

And this is where I re­al­ize that nei­ther side in this de­bate has any in­cen­tive to find a so­lu­tion to the cri­sis that is rip­ping this coun­try to shreds.

This con­tro­versy is deep and wide and burn­ing, echo­ing the rift our an­ces­tors con­fronted over slav­ery, and it is al­ready leav­ing scars that will not fade even with the ther­a­peu­tic balm of leg­is­la­tion and reconcilia­tion. The de­tained chil­dren are the ca­naries in the coal mine of our na­tional moral­ity, and see­ing them in this sus­tained state of cri­sis and neglect says some trou­bling things about who we are con­tent to be.

It is fair to worry about the larger, over­ar­ch­ing pol­icy is­sues when dis­cussing im­mi­gra­tion. But this mo­ment is not about par­ti­san­ship. Our re­cent his­tor­i­cal past shows that there is enough blame to go around. And when we start point­ing fin­gers at one side and give the other a pass, the im­mi­grants are the ones who end up suf­fer­ing.

There should be no ques­tion that a coun­try that turns its back on chil­dren for po­lit­i­cal games­man­ship is not the type of coun­try any of us should be proud to call our own.

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