Despite Trump fatigue, the horror of child detention breaks through our apathy

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

President Trump has worn us down. The Mueller report — loaded with evidence that Trump obstructed justice and welcomed Russian interference in the 2016 campaign — bobs, floats, and then sinks beneath the surface. A credible accusation that he raped a woman several decades ago barely registers. Dangerous rhetoric that journalists are “the enemy of the people,” once shocking, is now little more than background noise.

Sometimes, though, the terrible reality of the Trump presidency breaks through, at least for a moment. Such is the case with the hundreds of migrant children being held at a border detention center in Clint, Texas, under conditions of shocking cruelty, according to a group of lawyers that visited the camp. The children are reported to be cold, hungry, and filthy. Many are sick.

Then, on Tuesday, the awful consequences of Trump’s policies were driven home in even more graphic detail, as news organizations published a photo of the bodies of a father and daughter from El Salvador who had drowned while attempting to cross the Rio Grande from Mexico into the United States.

This time the public appears to be paying attention. No, not the way they did several weeks after Trump’s inauguration, when thousands of people turned out in Boston (and many more across the country) to protest the first iteration of his ban on Muslim immigrants. That was before Trump had had a chance to induce inaction through the sheer repetition of outrages. But the news media, at least, have shone a spotlight on the horrifying details coming out of Clint. Media interest is an imperfect measure of public interest, but to the extent that there is some correlation, the news appears to be breaking through. Some examples:

• From 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.”

• From The Associated Press: “A 2-year-old boy locked in detention wants to be held all the time. A few girls, ages 10 to 15, say they’ve been doing their best to feed and soothe the clingy toddler who was handed to them by a guard days ago. Lawyers warn that kids are taking care of kids, and there’s inadequate food, water and sanitation for the 250 infants, children and teens at the Border Patrol station.”

• From The New Yorker (quoting Warren Binford, one of the lawyers who visited Clint): “Many of the children reported sleeping on the concrete floor. They are being given army blankets, those wool-type blankets that are really harsh. Most of the children said they’re being given two blankets, one to put beneath them on the floor. Some of the children are describing just being given one blanket and having to decide whether to put it under them or over them, because there is air-conditioning at this facility. And so they’re having to make a choice about, Do I try to protect myself from the cement, or do I try to keep warm?”

Naturally, these reports haven’t stopped Trump from lying about what is happening. Over the weekend, in an interview with Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press,” Trump blamed his predecessor, President Obama, for the policy of separating migrant children from their families. Not only did the hapless Todd fail to challenge him but, as Aaron Rupar of Vox noted, whoever was running the “Meet the Press” Twitter feed repeated Trump’s assertion. In case you had any doubts, it was entirely false, according to Miriam Valverde’s analysis at PolitiFact.

Trump being Trump, news organizations are not being allowed to witness what is taking place in Clint, or at other detention facilities. We have to rely on the reports of public interest lawyers because the press has been banned from witnessing what’s taking place.

As Paul Farhi reports in The Washington Post: “The blackout on press access has left Americans largely in the dark about conditions in government facilities designed to handle migrants who have crossed the border. Photographs and TV images are both rare and often dated. Rarer still are interviews with federal agency managers and employees and with the children themselves.”

Even so, the news that has trickled out has apparently been enough to prompt action. Some of the children were transferred to other, presumably less crowded, facilities. On Tuesday came word that John Sanders, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, would resign — a significant move given that, until now, Trump’s immigration officials have generally been pushed out for insufficient rather than excessive cruelty.

Horrors such as this can lead us to feel enraged — and then, because there seems to be so little we can do, apathetic and resigned. So I want to close with two pieces of information that should spark hope rather than despair.

The first is an editorial in The New York Times that closes with a list of steps we can all take — from contacting elected officials, to donating money to humanitarian organizations, to holding political candidates accountable.

The second is from Warren Binford’s interview with The New Yorker. When the interviewer, Isaac Chotiner, asked her about the “attitude of the guards” toward the lawyers, Binford replied: “They are on our side. Multiple guards told us while we were there that they are on our side and they want us to be successful, because the children don’t belong there, and the children need to be picked up and put in appropriate places for children. They want us to be successful.”

Binford is no Pollyanna, and she acknowledged that there is some cruelty among the guards. But, she said, “I do believe in the inherent goodness of people.”

Binford has seen much worse than we on the outside have. I’m struck by her optimism that most people are good, and that there are steps we can take to counteract the evil in our midst. It may seem in these dark times that there is little that decent people can do. We can’t give in to that type of thinking. The stakes are too high.

Talk about this post on Facebook.

Sunday’s rally in Copley Square was an outpouring of decency. But what’s next?

Oke Metitin: "My parents were immigrants, so I felt obligated to protest." Photo (cc) by Dan Kennedy. For more photos of the rally, please click here.
Oke Metitin: “My parents were immigrants, so I felt obligated to protest.” Photo (cc) by Dan Kennedy. For more photos of the rally, please click here.

If you’ve been looking for decency amid the indecent acts of President Trump, Copley Square on Sunday afternoon was an ideal place to find it. Thousands upon thousands of people gathered to protest the president’s policies aimed at keeping immigrants and refugees out of the country. And notwithstanding the occasional sign with an F-bomb or with a swastika imposed over Trump’s face, they were just so nice.

Among the decent people I met was Oke Metitin, a young Nigerian-American woman who lives in Boston. She was holding a large sign proclaiming Emma Lazarus’s poem that’s inscribed on the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor …”) followed by “No Ban. No Wall.” I asked her why she had come to Copley Square. “My parents were immigrants, so I felt obligated to protest,” she said. “Hopefully President Trump will get the message that this isn’t constitutional.”

Read the rest at WGBHNews.org. And talk about this post on Facebook.

New York Times sanitizes Bachmann on immigration

Michele Bachmann
Michele Bachmann

The New York Times today sanitizes U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, in a story on immigration.

Times reporter Jonathan Weisman writes that the Republican Party is starting to move toward its Tea Party base on immigration issues and quotes Bachmann as saying, “This was one of the most remarkable experiences I’ve had in my eight years in Congress. We were able to achieve unity across the conference in what is likely to be the most consequential issue of this time: immigration.”

But though Weisman quotes incendiary remarks by Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, about a “war on whites,” he gives Bachmann a pass for her recent comments that President Obama wants to bring more undocumented children into the United States so that the government can carry out medical experiments on them. Here’s what Bachmann said on a radio show called “WallBuilders Today,” as transcribed by the liberal group People for the American Way:

Now President Obama is trying to bring all of those foreign nationals, those illegal aliens to the country and he has said that he will put them in the foster care system. That’s more kids that you can see how — we can’t imagine doing this, but if you have a hospital and they are going to get millions of dollars in government grants if they can conduct medical research on somebody, and a ward of the state can’t say “no,” a little kid can’t say “no” if they’re a ward of the state; so here you could have this institution getting millions of dollars from our government to do medical experimentation and a kid can’t even say “no.” It’s sick.

I can’t imagine why Weisman and his editors decided it was all right to quote Bachmann on immigration issues without bringing up this piece of demented and very recent rhetoric.

A proud day for Gov. Patrick and for Massachusetts

I’ve got my issues with Gov. Deval Patrick. Over the years I’ve given him two Muzzle Awards, for pandering to the decency police and for an excessive devotion to governmental secrecy. And don’t get me started on casino gambling.

Today, though, I’m proud that he’s my governor.

Fake outrage over a non-issue (II)

A New York Times/CBS News national poll of Democrats and Republicans shows that the constant drumbeat over illegal immigration simply isn’t registering.

According to the underlying data (PDF), just 5 percent believe that immigration is the most important problem facing the country — well behind war and Iraq (a cumulative 22 percent) and the economy (20 percent), and slightly behind health care (7 percent).

When asked what kind of change they most want to see the next president bring about, reducing illegal immigration (4 percent of respondents) was again well down on the list, behind improving the economy (20 percent), dealing with the war in Iraq (14 percent), improving health care (6 percent) and helping the middle class (5 percent).

Just to reinforce the point, John McCain — perceived as taking the least draconian stand on illegal immigration of any Republican presidential candidate — now gets the highest favorability ratings.

As Globe columnist Joan Vennochi points out, even though Gov. Deval Patrick is taking a political risk with his not-quite-proposal to extend in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants, Patrick is well aware that immigrant-bashing has proved to be a loser of an issue.

Herald columnist Peter Gelzinis makes the same observation, writing:

Do you think Gov. Deval Patrick would be floating the idea of lowering state college tuition rates for illegal immigrants at this moment if Mitt Romney’s $40 million “illegal alien” screed had carried him to victory in Iowa and New Hampshire?

I don’t think so. Deval may be a moonbat, but he did manage to graduate from the same law school as Willard.

Gelzinis also notes that Patrick’s Republican opponent for the governorship in 2006, Kerry Healey, made a huge deal of illegal immigration. Healey, of course, became the first Republican candidate to lose a governor’s race in Massachusetts since 1986.

Politicians make a huge mistake when they confuse what they hear on talk radio with what most average Americans have on their minds.

Fake outrage over a non-issue

The talk shows are already going nuts over Gov. Deval Patrick’s statement that he may issue an executive order allowing illegal immigrants who live in Massachusetts to pay the in-state tuition rate at public colleges or universities (Globe story here; Herald story here).

But Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, appearing this morning on Tom Finneran’s show on WRKO (AM 680), said at least twice that such immigrants would be eligible only if they can document that they are in the process of seeking legal status. He also said there would only be about 400 or 500 eligible kids.

Not a big deal. Then again, we already know that anger over illegal immigration is one of those phony issues that doesn’t extend much beyond Talk Show Nation. Just ask Mitt Romney how his tough-guy talk played in Iowa and New Hampshire.