Although I love to travel, I’ve never liked crossing borders. It makes me nervous, perhaps because, on one side of my family, I am the child of immigrants who were always fussing about their paperwork. Border guards, I learned at an early age, are anonymous functionaries who have outsized power to wreck your plans, or invade your privacy, for any reason they choose. Because of this, sometimes when a border guard asks me what I am coming into the country to do, I am jittery enough to forget completely. Is it a conference? Vacation? Giving a talk? Visiting a friend? Occasionally, they ask where I am staying and I always want to say: how the fuck should I know? I’ve never even been here before. I know where home is and that’s about it.
I am so attuned to the terror of these crossings that I find it even creepier when there aren’t any border checks, because I’m sure there is some greater power lurking somewhere. Once, before 9/11, we were visiting a friend in Geneva, Switzerland. We got off the plane, walked down a series of halls, and all of a sudden, we were on the street, without our passports having been stamped, or having gone through customs, or anything. I thought: oh my God, where is the nearest American Embassy?! But our friend, who met us outside the airport, just threw our suitcases in her car and said, “Don’t worry. They knew who you were before you got on the plane.” You see what I mean?
But of course, I have never been so unlucky to have needed to find refuge in another country because I am worried that I will be imprisoned, tortured, or killed. I have never had to flee because if I stayed where I was I would starve to death or be forced to become a drug mule, be persecuted for my politics, sexuality or religion, or see my children grow up in poverty and violence. But this is the situation that thousands of people find themselves in many parts of the world, not infrequently because the United States — because of our appetite for drugs, oil and dictators — has helped to create these problems. Because of their desire to translate their ability to work hard into safety and prosperity, immigrants and refugees try to come into the United States for freedom and opportunity.
The Trump administration is determined to stop them, or at least determined to show Trump voters that they are determined to stop them. They are also trying to blackmail Democrats into funding their asinine border wall which, in addition to being useless, is guaranteed to be a sinkhole of corruption, graft and pork barrel spending if it is funded. In the latest chapter, Donald Trump and the Trump Justice Department (not to be confused with a real Justice Department) has signed off on a policy of separating children from their migrant parents and is more or less holding those children hostage. The Los Angeles Times has a good summary here of what we know so far.
It’s a heartbreaking situation, and one that is not — I think — exactly breaking down on partisan lines, in part because centrists and many conservatives are horrified by the few images and sounds of traumatized children that are evading the Trump administration’s suppression of the news. All the Democrats are enraged; and a great many Republicans in the Senate are shifting uncomfortably in their chairs. Ted Cruz, for example, who is currently in a dead heat with Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, cannot figure out how to play this. Jeff Flake and Susan Collins have written a stern letter to Kirsten Nielsen, the secretary of Homeland Security. Evangelical Franklin Graham has announced that he finds the family separation policy “disgraceful,” although oddly, he doesn’t find Trump himself disgraceful. And the Queen of Feckless Cant, Ivanka Trump has, we are assured, spoken to the man universally known as “my father” about this, but won’t be making a public statement.
There are a great many things to be upset about here: that children are being traumatized for absolutely no reason that has anything to do with public safety or their own well-being; that they are being held in hastily erected, minimal standard facilities with little trained staff; that the Trump administration is trying to prevent press coverage, so that the American people know very little about what is going on; and that administration officials are simply lying about what they are doing. The rest of the globe is caught up in the joy of the World Cup and the United States is — doing what? Producing a panoramic display of what it looks like for a superpower to have no ethical or moral standards whatsoever.
Nothing enrages people who are defending this odious policy more than comparisons to the Holocaust, which have only been exacerbated by reports in Texas that children, who officials said were being taken for a bath, had been separated from their parents and taken to detention centers. You can hear how those children are doing here, courtesy of ProPublica.
To read the rest of this post, published at Public Seminar on June 20, 2018, click here.