EDITORIAL: Children should not be pawns in political battle over immigration

No one should find the forced separation of children from parents a preferred way to exercise federal government power. What is happening in Texas and elsewhere doesn’t represent how civilized Americans treat children – not now, not ever. This isn’t about politics. This is about humanity.

The country is in an uproar and, to no one’s surprise, divided. Federal immigration authorities have ramped up practices that part parent from child. They do so to allow the federal government to prosecute the mom or dad for criminal violation of immigration laws. Kids can’t go to jail, so they’re taken away and the U.S. government for the moment becomes mom and dad.

This accelerated after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April declared “zero tolerance” for those sneaking into the U.S. If you come across the border illegally, you’re going to be treated as a criminal. “A crisis has erupted at our Southwest border that necessitates an escalated effort to prosecute those who choose to illegally cross our border,” he said in his April 6 announcement.

In recent days, reports have piled one top another what this all means. The most obvious: Hundreds of children suddenly find themselves among strangers, no idea of their fate, and a vague sense of what has become of mom and dad.

The Associated Press reported over the weekend on the visit to a small Texas shelter housing some of these children. Dr. Colleen Kraft of the American Academy of Pediatrics spotted a toddler who “was crying uncontrollably and pounding her little fists on a mat,” the AP reported. The academy verified to the Malheur Enterprise that the account of what Kraft saw was accurate.

Other reporting has been sensationalistic and overheated, adding volume where none is needed. But the voices speaking up run the spectrum. U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, our local congressman, said the situation was “heartbreaking.” Evangelist Franklin Graham called the act of separating kids from parents “disgraceful.” Former first Lady Laura Bush wrote in a guest opinion the practice was “immoral” and “cruel.”

The federal government over the weekend tried to shift blame elsewhere. On Sunday, Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said in a public tweet: “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border.” Then on Monday before the National Sheriffs’ Association, she defended such separations. She also said that “misreporting” by the press and Congress distorted what was happening. The Enterprise reached out to her agency to reconcile the statements and get examples of the misreporting we could share. We’re still waiting, and the public deserves the truth from its top officials.

There is enormous debate in this country about immigration – what to toughen, what to change, who’s to blame, and what’s the cost. We can’t even agree on what to call the temporary compounds housing children. Are they in cages? Or are they in dorms that have chain link walls?

Frankly, we don’t care about the semantics or the politics. No 2-year-old toddler should be a victim of a political debate. No teenager should be turned into an attendant, changing diapers on strangers’ children inside those chain link compounds. Young boys shouldn’t be left to idle away hours, sitting on cots, hugging around them “space blankets” that sure don’t smack of home.

As a society, all of must care about and deplore the disruptive treatment of children who did little more than hold their parents’ hands. No one, not a soul among us, should feel the kids got what they deserved, or that it is the parents’ shame, not ours, that some children now see the world through the “X”s of a metal fence.

And this should be especially distressing to those who call Malheur County home. We are a community built on immigration and migrants. We have an economy dependent upon the hard-working individuals who make their way here not to rob or steal or attack but to sweat and strain and survive. Malheur County especially should raise its collective voice to these family separations: Enough. – LZ