Free the Children!

Free the Children!

Department of Justice lawyer Sarah Fabian

(screenshot from NowThis)

Child abuse is a terrible crime whether committed in the home, on a playground, in a church or school, or a facility operated by the United States government.  Child abuse is horrific whether the crime is committed at the hand of a family member, stranger, teacher or priest, or agents of the United States government.  Bystanders who witness child abuse and do nothing are cooperating with a terrible evil, a profound affront to human life and dignity.  A person who witnesses child abuse must intervene quickly and decisively to protect the child, whether through direct engagement with the abuser or reporting the abuse to police or child protection authorities.

Police and child protection authorities should be swarming the detention center in Clint, Texas near El Paso where hundreds of migrant children are being held in appalling and abusive conditions.  From the account in the New York Times:

“Children as young as 7 and 8, many of them wearing clothes caked with snot and tears, are caring for infants they’ve just met, the lawyers said. Toddlers without diapers are relieving themselves in their pants. Teenage mothers are wearing clothes stained with breast milk.

“Most of the young detainees have not been able to shower or wash their clothes since they arrived at the facility, those who visited said. They have no access to toothbrushes, toothpaste or soap.

“There is a stench,” said Elora Mukherjee, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, one of the lawyers who visited the facility. “The overwhelming majority of children have not bathed since they crossed the border.”  (New York Times, June 21, 2019, There Is a Stench’: No Soap and Overcrowding in Detention Centers for Migrant Children)

The New Yorker also ran an article this week interviewing a lawyer who was with a team of lawyers and doctors who visited the Clint facility, and she described this:

“Oh, I know what I wanted to tell you. This is important. So, on Wednesday, we received reports from children of a lice outbreak in one of the cells where there were about twenty-five children, and what they told us is that six of the children were found to have lice. And so they were given a lice shampoo, and the other children were given two combs and told to share those two combs, two lice combs, and brush their hair with the same combs, which is something you never do with a lice outbreak. And then what happened was one of the combs was lost, and Border Patrol agents got so mad that they took away the children’s blankets and mats. They weren’t allowed to sleep on the beds, and they had to sleep on the floor on Wednesday night as punishment for losing the comb. So you had a whole cell full of kids who had beds and mats at one point, not for everybody but for most of them, who were forced to sleep on the cement.”  (New Yorker, June 22, 2019, Inside a Texas Building Where the Government Is Holding Immigrant Children

And then there is the news clip of Department of Justice lawyer Sarah Fabian defending the government’s refusal to provide soap and toothbrushes to the children. Here’s the full hearing before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals:

The Atlantic has a long article explaining the legal history of her argument, and in the time it takes to read it the government could have issued soap and toothbrushes and given the children at least a few minutes of basic decency and humanity.  But, no.

Meanwhile, as children try to sleep on concrete floors while suffering the most egregious physical conditions, candidates for the Office of President of the United States attended a ‘fish fry’ and continued to pick at their various laments about each other and the current administration while barely making a dent in any serious discussion of the horrors our nation is tolerating.  Back in Washington, the president of the United States continues on his strange and incomprehensible wobbles through foreign policy and angry retorts on sexual assault charges, while using immigrants and refugees as fodder for his re-election bid — threatening deportations, then pulling back the threat, and who knows what’s next as this man spins through the cycles of whim without any apparent regard for the impact of his statements or actions.

Meanwhile, the children in Texas still sleep on concrete floors and don’t get to brush their teeth.  I’m very glad the president cared enough about human life to pull back on bombing Iran when he was told that as many as 150 Iranians might die in the bombing, but I would be more impressed with his “pro-life” commitment if he freed the children at the border from their cases and inhumane conditions and used the awesome power and wealth of the United States government to (a) reunite the children with their parents immediately and (b) provide housing, food and safety to these impoverished refugees.

We read histories of what happened in the 1930’s in Germany and ask ourselves why smart, literate people of conscience did not stand up to the growing evidence of pure evil in the national government.  We read about the defense of Nazi officials at the Nuremberg trials and hear that they were “just following orders.”  History is rife with stories of the actions of people who should have known better, who just followed orders, who were complicit in evil.

We can rail against the demagoguery and narcissism of Trump, but he would be no more than a passing departure from normalcy were it not for the many, many people who are enabling his cruel and inhumane policies, who are complicit in carrying out egregiously immoral actions.  Why are they not rejecting the orders to do so?  Self-interest is a powerful human emotion — the members of Congress who enable him, the people on his staff who coddle him and clean up his messes, the lawyers at the Department of Justice who know better, much better, and yet who have honed their ability to make fervid legal arguments in favor of denying children soap and toothbrushes.

That echo you hear is Joseph Goebbels laughing.

Free the children!  Now!  No excuses.