In a head-spinning reversal last week, President Donald Trump responded to public outrage over heart wrenching images of children locked in chain link cages on the southern border. It appears that he backed down on his cynical decision to separate innocent migrant children from their parents.
While welcome news, the devil is in the details and in his follow through. We must remain vocal and vigilant because too often with this president, what he says is not always what he does.
Two weekends ago, I traveled to the Texas-Mexico border to investigate the administration’s unconscionable family separation policy.
This is what I witnessed:
• I saw dozens of children penned in chain link cages silently staring straight ahead. No smiles, no laughter. None of the joy characteristic of children.
• I toured a government-run migrant processing facility aptly dubbed the “ice box.” Children wrapped in foil-like blankets huddled on floor mats to stay warm. I witnessed three young brothers clinging to each other, as if for dear life.
• I met with a group of mothers just separated from their children. When the first began to speak of the pain she was enduring not knowing where her daughter was, the others began to sob as if on cue. One woman told me, “With God’s help, I will be reunited with my baby soon.”
• At another facility, I met Andrea, who described her treacherous journey to the Texas border while 8 months pregnant. She fled her home in Guatemala after she was targeted for assassination by thugs due to an outstanding loan. The hit was to take place just outside the local hospital right after she gave birth.
Her escape to the Texas border took 13 days. Along the way, she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. At the border, she sought political asylum. She and her baby were denied entry and detained.
• Inside a windowless former Walmart converted into a cavernous shelter, I saw 1,500 boys warehoused and alone. There was not a parent in sight. They were allowed outside for two hours each day.
• I was barred from visiting any of the detention facilities housing girls, or infants and very young children who, in an Orwellian twist, are labeled by the government as “children of tender age.”
Parents in Vermont and around the world have one thing in common: Each of us will do whatever it takes, at any cost, to protect our kids from harm and secure for them a better future. The parents I met on the border were no different.
Contrary to the president’s tweetstorms, they were not criminals, rapists, or gang members. They were not “animals” as he has asserted. They simply seek a safe haven for their kids free of gang violence, human rights abuses, domestic violence and desperate poverty.
The president’s shameful decision to criminalize the act of seeking asylum and separate innocent migrant children from their parents is an atrocity that flies in the face of everything we stand for as Americans: «Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.”
Until last Wednesday, President Trump blamed Congress for his policy, claiming he was merely enforcing existing law and that only Congress could change it. That was a lie.
Despite his apparent retreat, I have no doubt he remains intent on using these innocent children and their parents, as well as the Dreamers, as leverage to get his way on extreme immigration proposals, including spending billions of taxpayer dollars on an unnecessary border wall that he promised us would be paid for by Mexico.
Since my trip to the border, I have heard from hundreds of Vermonters wanting to know how they can help. First, you can let the president know what you think by calling the White House at 202-456-1111 or 202-456-1414.
Second, in the days ahead, you can participate in rallies being held in Vermont and across the country.
And finally, you can reach out to friends and relatives in other states. Urge them to call their senators and representatives and demand they vote to prohibit the forced separation of innocent migrant children from their parents so that this never happens again.
The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics called President Trump’s policy “government-sanctioned child abuse.” I was an eyewitness to the trauma being inflicted on these kids and I will never forget it.
Congressman Peter Welch, D-Vt., is Vermont’s lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives.