US Customs & Border Protection photo

Hey, remember how Republicans' only strategy for the 2018 midterms was scaring people about the caravan of murderous virile Honduran men who turned out not to be an invasion force after all, and Democrats won the House anyway? Doesn't matter! Donald Trump knows in his heart that being a dick to Mexicans -- whatever shithole country they're from! -- is how he got elected, so if there's one thing his presidency has focused on, it's the endless quest to find new ways to screw immigrants. Yes, even legal immigrants, because Stephen Miller hates them, too. Let's briefly recall some of the things we hope will someday be nothing more than fodder for AP history essays asking, "But didn't they know that was WRONG?" Unless of course Republicans in 2068 insist it be left out of AP history in favor of more uplifting stuff.

Remember DACA? Nah, Neither Does Trump

We end 2018 much as we began it, with a government shutdown thanks to Donald Trump's obsession with immigration. In January, Trump briefly flirted with actually fixing the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program that he'd impulsively cancelled in 2017. He even said he'd let the Senate come up with a plan to do it, and he would totally sign off on it! So then a bipartisan group of senators went and did that thing, proposing a deal that would include a path to citizenship for the 600,000 Dreamers, plus some other immigration stuff that Dems and Rs wanted, including money for border security and even some for the damn Wall.

But by then, Fox News was mad at Trump for being too squishy, so within two days, Trump refused a deal that actually had most of what he said he wanted, and with some courage from John Kelly and Stephen Miller, melted down in the infamous "shithole countries" meeting, and then there was a brief government shutdown to underline the point: No policy treating immigrants even remotely like humans would be acceptable ever again. At least courts finally intervened and have told Trump he can't unilaterally start deporting DACA kids. So instead, he declared that the REAL "dreamers" are all the American-born Americans who came to this country the right way, by being born to white people.

Family Separation: An Idea Whose Time Never Shoulda Come

Then came May 8, when the administration rolled out a brand new strategy to dissuade people from coming to America: On the very same day Melania Trump unveiled her "Be Best, Except For Grammar" campaign to fight bullying, her husband and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, told the world that the USA was absolutely the BEST at bullying children, by taking them from their parents. John Kelly had been pushing the idea forever: Children of immigrants crossing the border illegally -- and as it turned out, children of asylum-seekers doing it the "right way" at ports of entry -- would be taken from their parents, because their parents were CRIMINALS. Illegal entry is, after all, a misdemeanor, so the kids were taken away, just like when Americans get jailed for driving without a license.

They called it "Zero Tolerance," and in practice, it was a lot different from American kids going into foster care when their parents do crimes, because as bad as it is, the foster care system generally keeps records of which kids belong to which parents. Not in the family separation clusterfuck, which like every other Trump policy went into effect with no planning, no consideration of what's legal, or any notion of how it would end -- and why would it ever end? By the end of May, with stories of families being separated at the border causing normal human beings to freak the fuck out, Donald Trump took to lying about it, blaming Democrats, and insisting it was all because of bad Democrat laws. Besides, this had to be done or MS-13 THUGS would be swarming into your living room with Nancy Pelosi in tow.

By June, outrage was growing over the separations and pesky US Sen Jeff Merkley demanded to see what the hell was going on in the baby jails -- so naturally, the White House responded by explaining Merkley favors letting illegals rape people. No, really, they did.

Funny thing: Apart from the usual bag of nativist creeps, Americans were horrified by family separation. So the administration went into Big Lie mode: There's no family separation policy, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen insisted. Oh, sure, families might get separated because they're illegally crossing the border to claim asylum, but that means the FAMILIES are responsible, not us or our policies, you see? (And yes, of course memos later emerged showing that family separation was the point, not a quirky side effect.)

Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to justify family separation by citing the Bible, which tells people they must follow the law and also submit to whatever torture the Trump administration says the law is. All that stuff about compassion and the duty to comfort the stranger, it turns out, was inserted by Democrats who want open borders. But then, just days later, ProPublica released that tape of children in a Border Patrol facility crying for their parents, "[screaming] 'Mami' and 'Papá' over and over again, as if those are the only words they know." One 6-year-old Salvadoran girl even tried logic on her captors, explaining she had a phone number for her aunt, and her aunt could pick her up, could you please let her call her aunt, please?She promised to be good, thinking maybe they'd let her go.

Just a month later, in a "Frontline" documentary, former acting ICE director Thomas Homan almost reacted like a human to the tape, which he had avoided listening to because, as he told the reporter, "I've heard many children cry in my 34 years. I don't need to hear children cry." But only for a moment -- then he went right back to insisting we have to secure our borders, although he couldn't quite articulate why taking children from their parents would accomplish that. By that point, nobody in the administration wanted to admit to using psychological torture, although early on, in May, John Kelly, the alleged adult, called family separation a "deterrent" to illegal immigration. But in reality, the numbers of border crossings didn't appreciably change.

Fix What We Broke? Why Would We Do That?

That recording, released June 18, helped bring things to a head. While waiting for a press briefing -- the White House still held them back in June -- reporters listened to the tape, and asked Nielsen, "How is this not child abuse?" She didn't reply to that directly, instead talking about "alien children" and saying the audio, and photos of distraught migrants, merely reflected "the focus of those who post such pictures and narratives."

Even before the recording was released, psychologists were warning of the devastating effects of taking kids from their parents; the American Academy of Pediatrics and other professional groups warned,

To pretend that separated children do not grow up with the shrapnel of this traumatic experience embedded in their minds is to disregard everything we know about child development, the brain, and trauma.

Remembering those old experiments from the '50s about attachment with parents -- and what happens when baby monkeys get food, but not contact or affection -- we realized America is the Wire Mother. Our references to "The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas" also reached record levels, and plenty of other Americans had had it, too. But in the meantime, Trump also built a tent city in Texas to hold children (that "temporary" camp is still in operation, though now it holds older kids who crossed the border alone).

Two days after the tape came out, Donald Trump generously signed an executive order supposedly ending his own policy of family separation, although of course it was full of lies -- no executive order was needed, and for fuckssake the order didn't even mention reuniting children with their parents (eventually, we learned it was over 2,600 kids in total).

Fortunately, the ACLU had already sued over family separation, and by the end of June, the judge in that case ordered the administration to reunite all children under five with their parents within two weeks, and the rest of the children by the end of July. Team Trump dragged its feet and made excuses, and by the first deadline only managed to reunite half of the under-five kids. The deadline for the rest of the kids was also not met, although the Trump administration was very proud of itself for reuniting two thirds of the kids with their parents, while over 700 remained in baby jails or with foster parents. The administration was too damn lazy to look for parents it had deported, and told the ACLU to find parents if it thought they mattered so damn much. Even today, some 200 kids from the "zero tolerance" period have yet to be reunited, five months after the deadline. And the government is still taking children away at the border, but "only" when agents believe the parents have committed serious crimes or may be traffickers, or when parents don't present adequate proof they're related to their kids.

So Now Everything's OK, Right?

Since the "end" of family separation, the administration has explored other fun options, like maybe rewriting the rules to allow indefinite detention of families together, because hey, it's not separation so shut up. The number of minors in detention -- now almost all "unaccompanied alien children" who crossed the border alone -- is reaching record levels because the administration has made placing them with family members already in the US much harder. And as a very funny joke, ICE is using those detained kids as a lure to arrest and deport undocumented relatives, ha-ha! In December, the administration took a small step toward letting some kids loose, but don't be fooled -- it was to relieve the overcrowding, nothing more.

In the meantime, the war on Asylum continues apace, with courts mostly saying no, Donald Trump can't make up immigration law off the top of Stephen Miller's spray-painted head. Just before the Trump Shutdown, the administration rolled out yet another assault on asylum-seekers, demanding that anyone asking for asylum be detained in Mexico until their case is heard -- depending on whether it holds up to court challenges, that could actually be far more deadly for people fleeing violence in Central America than Trump's dumb wall, because it would affect even those who ask for asylum at ports of entry.

And as we're entirely too aware, children are dying in Border Patrol custody, even though Trump blames the Democrats, because if only we had WALL, then they'd die elsewhere and no one would know or care. Behind it all, Trump's immigration Obersturmbannf├╝hrer, Stephen Miller, is the one competent person in the administration, quietly finding mechanisms to turn every aspect of US law and regulations into tools to wield against even legal immigrants. Gotta Make America White Again, if only by making it a place no one in their right mind wants to come to.

Fortunately, there was an election, and with Democrats taking back the House (and poised, dare we hope, to take back the Senate and the presidency in 2020), there's reason to hope the New Cruelty will be brought to account -- there will be hearings, at least, and then in January 2021, just maybe, a restoration of sanity and decency. If anyone is going to jail over this, we'll have to do it ourselves -- the USA never joined the International Criminal Court. Republicans feared it would falsely accuse Americans of crimes against humanity, imagine that.

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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