Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley wasn’t satisfied hearing about the Trump administration “zero tolerance” policy that separates children from their asylum-seeking parents when they surrender at our southern border. He wanted to see what was happening first-hand. He came away calling it Trump’s “zero humanity” policy.
As he relates in an op-ed published over the weekend by the Portland Tribune, Merkley showed up at the McAllen, Texas border processing center. What he saw, he says, left a “searing” memory and confirmed his worst fears. “Essentially, this adds up to the Trump administration choosing to inflict tremendous trauma on children to discourage families from seeking asylum in the United States,” Merkley wrote.
When he asked border processing center the rationale to separate children from their parents, Merkley says he was told they were just following orders. (Trump officials say tough measures are needed to secure the nation’s southern border and prevent MS-13 gang members from slipping into the country.)
Merkley described the place as a large warehouse with chain link fencing to create “holding cells.” He saw young children formed into lines. Some of the children were only four or five years old. Chilling images sadly and starkly reminiscent of a bygone, but not forgotten time. And it’s apparently not working. According to border agents, as many as 650 children were culled from their parents in a single 12-hour period and as many as 11,000 effectively orphaned children are being held in resettlement camps. The horrors asylum-seekers are escaping are worse than the horrors the Trump team inflicts.
From the border processing center, Merkley followed the trail of children to a detention facility in Brownsville, Texas, located in a former Walmart and run by a nonprofit. The senator had sought permission to view the facility, but it wasn’t granted. He figured he would try knocking on the door and see what happened. He didn’t get in.
“I don't know how many children are there. I don't know if they have sufficient counselors. I don't know how successful agencies are in finding homes for them across the country. I don't know if they are in contact with their parents, but I've heard that is extremely difficult,” Merkley recalled. “I do know this: The policy that brought children there, separated from their parents, is absolutely horrific and wrong.”
It isn’t surprising Merkley is using his unrequited trip to Texas as a political springboard:
“Americans should be outraged that our tax dollars are used to inflict spiteful and traumatizing policies on innocent children. I am calling on the relevant Senate committees to hold hearings about this situation. And I'm calling on all Americans to register their opposition with their House and Senate members.
“As a parent, I cannot imagine the horror of having my kids taken from my arms with no idea where they're going or when I might see them again. When I think of that little 4- or 5-year-old boy, stranded and scared – and think of the hundreds, perhaps thousands more children who are experiencing that same suffering – my heart breaks and my blood boils.”
Merkley’s appeals, at least so far, haven’t moderated the Trump policy. In fact, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced this week stricter conditions for people seeking political asylum. Whatever the merits of discounting domestic abuse and gang violence as reasons to grant asylum, the message was clear – don’t come, you’re not welcome, we will treat you as criminals.
Merkley rhetorically asks Trump: “What nation can justify inflicting harm on children to discourage parents from exercising the international right to seek asylum from persecution? No religious tradition nor moral code in the universe supports such a strategy.” The only strategy where such a policy makes some semblance of sense is a political strategy in which immigrants are the problem and barbed borders are the solution.