What Part Of NEVER AGAIN Don't We Understand?
One day, God willing, my grandchildren will click open their history textbooks and read about the Central American migrant internment camps. They'll learn about sick kids, locked in cages, kept hungry and dirty and cold for weeks on end, and they'll be horrified.
"Bubbie," they'll say, "how could this happen in America? How could there be toddlers sleeping on the ground without blankets, without soap or toothbrushes to clean themselves?"
"I don't know. I wish I had done more. I'm ashamed," I'll say. We will all have to answer for this atrocity. But some of us will have to answer more than others. Not just the archvillains like Stephen Miller and John Kelly, but the people who kept right on doing their jobs, even as those jobs morphed into defending concentration camps.
So, no, I don't feel sorry for Sarah Fabian. Decades from now, people will still be watching this video of her arguing that "safe and sanitary conditions" doesn't include soap or toothbrushes or beds or warmth or lights out for bedtime. This should follow her for the rest of her life.
And yes, I understand that Fabian is technically arguing that those things are not "enumerated" in the 1997 Flores agreement, and thus Judge Dolly Gee's 2017 order that kids in government custody get soap modifies the original terms, meaning the government is entitled to an appeal. The Trump administration wants out of the Flores settlement so they can lawfully lock up children indefinitely, and Fabian is just doing her job trying to make that happen. And I do not care.
Because none of this is normal. And if your job requires you to defend concentration camps, then you have a moral and ethical obligation not to do it. Sherrilyn Ifill, director of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, argued on Twitter that no one individual should be held responsible for the systemic policy failures at the Department of Justice.
Professor Ifill is undoubtedly right that, were Sarah Fabian to quit, or refuse to argue this case, another DOJ attorney would immediately step in to take her place. But she didn't quit. Sally Yates refused to defend the Travel Ban, even though she knew the White House would find someone else to do it, because Yates refused to defend the indefensible. Given the same choice, Fabian marched up to that lectern and argued that children didn't need to bathe to be "sanitary."
She didn't make this heinous policy, and she can't change it. But she could have refused to take part in it. And she didn't.
Please spare me your analogies to a criminal lawyer who represents a rapist, or a murderer, or a child molester. Criminal defendants have the constitutional right to counsel, and our adversarial system of justice depends on it. Fabian, on the other hand, represents the most powerful government in the world making a technical, legal argument to achieve grotesquely immoral ends. Quitting wouldn't deprive the government of representation, it would simply show that she herself was not willing to participate in crimes against humanity.
So, yeah, Sarah Fabian deserves our personal "ire." Every person who participates in this atrocity should wear it like a badge of shame as long as they live.
Right now there is a child sick with fever, lying on a concrete floor far away from her parents. And one day, that child's going to write the next Farewell to Manzanar about a time when the American government committed unspeakable acts. Maybe she'll grow up to be the next Norman Mineta or George Takei. Maybe one day she'll even forgive Sarah Fabian for her part in these internment camps.
But she won't forget. And neither will we.
UPDATE: Don't just get mad. Donate to RAICES to help get these kids back with their parents.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.