The Bible tells us the story about two women who both claimed to be mothers of a single child, with King Solomon asked to decide custody. In his wisdom, Solomon demands a sword, announcing that out of fairness he will have to slice the baby in two and give each woman half.
One woman then begs him to stop, telling Solomon that she would rather give up the child than see him killed. The second woman says calmly that “It shall be neither mine nor thine; divide it,” and is willing to see the child destroyed to satisfy her spite, cruelty and vindictiveness.
Our government — the government of the United States of America, the government of Washington and Lincoln and Roosevelt, the government elected by we, the people — has become that second woman.
Our government, through its family separation policy, is willing to use children as weapons, to risk destroying their lives in order to make a point and to inflict cruelty on their parents.
That is who we have become.
As of last week, according to testimony in federal court, the U.S. government still had custody of some 500 young children whom it had callously and carelessly separated from their refugee parents, and whom it cannot return to those parents because it does not know who or where those parents are.
In some cases, the families came here legally, seeking asylum as U.S. law allows. In most cases, the mothers and fathers were deported back to countries such as Guatemala and Honduras, with the government making no effort to reunite them with their children beforehand. That separation policy, initiated in May as a way to horrify and intimidate potential asylum seekers, has since been halted by the courts.
In the words of U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw, a Republican appointee:
“A practice of this sort implemented in this way is likely to be ‘so egregious, so outrageous, that it may fairly be said to shock the contemporary conscience’ … and is so ‘brutal’ and ‘offensive’ that it [does] not comport with traditional ideas of fair play and decency.”
According to Sabraw, parents and children were separated with no attention paid to tracking what happened or someday reuniting them. The U.S. government — again, our government, acting on your behalf and my behalf — simply did not care what happened to them. They treated them not as children but as leverage to inflict pain on their parents.
Even now, after the government was shamed into rescinding the policy, its cruelty continues. Last week, federal attorneys tried to tell Sabraw that the government had no legal obligation to try to reunite the families that it had torn apart. If the American Civil Liberties Union wanted to reunite them, the attorneys argued, the ACLU, not the government, should use “their considerable resources and their network of law firms, NGOs, volunteers and others to establish contact with these hundreds of deported parents.”
Again, the judge wasn’t having it.
“The reality is there are still close to 500 parents that have not been located, many of these parents were removed from the country without their child, all of this is the result of the government’s separation and then inability and failure to track and reunite,” Sabraw said. “And the reality is that for every parent who is not located, there will be a permanent orphaned child, and that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration.”
And this administration is 100 percent the responsibility of the American people that elected it to power. We did this.