That’s the one word I keep coming back to when I think about how the Trump administration — from the president and attorney general of the United States down to rank-and-file border agents and a growing gulag of profiteering private contractors — has treated desperate Central American refugees along our southern border: Contempt.
Elsa Ortiz was separated from her 8-year-old son at the border. Then she was deported to Guatemala without him. He is still in U.S. custody.
Today, she protested outside the Guatemala City hotel where Homeland Security Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen is staying: pic.twitter.com/pgwOqOybTn
The travesty of the Trump administration’s family separation policy has not withstood the sunlight of scrutiny. It has led to massively high levels of public opposition, noisy protests and global condemnation of one of the more shameful episodes in American history. Crucially, it has also been found in violation of the law.
Forty days ago, a federal judge in San Diego named Dana Sabraw (for what it’s worth, a George W. Bush appointee) ordered the Trump administration, which had already issued a vague executive order to undo its human rights abuses and end the family separation policy, to speed things up on reuniting detained kids with their mothers and fathers.
“All of this is the result of the government’s separation and then inability and failure to track and reunite,” Judge Sabraw said last week. “And the reality is that for every parent who is not located there will be a permanently orphaned child. And that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration.”
The Trump administration didn’t have a plan for implementing their family separation policy in the first place, and they don’t have a plan for fixing it now. pic.twitter.com/vRR6AJVyCN
It clear — to no one’s surprise — that the Trump administration never had any intention of reuniting the kids with their parents once they’d been ripped away from them, often by force or by trickery. This is 2018 — big retailers like Walmart are starting to use sensors to know the exact location of every curtain rod or ping-pong paddle they sell. That no provisions were made to track the locations of children and their parents is an unconscionable crime against humanity.
“There’s no question that separation of children from parents entails significant potential for traumatic psychological injury to the child,” said White, a career government official who worked under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
They knew what they were doing — that literally thousands of children, some of them infants and toddlers, would be forever scarred by how they were treated, with the official stamp of the American government — and they did it anyway. This is “never again”-type stuff, done in our name, and somebody needs to be held accountable.
But the Trump administration is, at this point, openly defying an order from a federal judge. I know that I, as a journalist, would likely be jailed if a judge ordered me to turn over notes or publicly identify a source and I refused (as happened in cases like this and this). Most everyday citizens would be jailed for contempt of court for disobeying a judge. And at this point has anyone shown more contempt for the legal system — let alone basic decency — than high-level Trump administration officials?
It’s time for Judge Sabraw to designate a high-ranking government official — my nominees would be HHS Secretary Alex Azar or Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen — and make it clear that he or she will be jailed if (barring an extreme circumstance in a particular case) the 572 families are not reunited within a matter of days. That would be a serious remedy for a serious human rights violation.
A country that didn’t think twice about ruining the lives of innocent migrant children shouldn’t think twice about legal sanctions for those responsible for such an unmoral and unlawful policy. Reunite the families now. Or. Lock. Them. Up.