Spend much time online, and you’ll quickly learn. It’s not enough to be opposed to family separation. It’s not enough to believe that Congress should act now to overturn the Flores consent decree, override administration policies, and keep families together at the border. For some activists, you’re not truly committed to justice unless you’re also raising the dark specter of Nazi Germany or Japanese-American internment.
Emotions are running very, very high, including for some of America’s most influential voices. This tweet, from a former director of the CIA and NSA, speaks volumes:
Other governments have separated mothers and children pic.twitter.com/tvlBkGjT0h
— Gen Michael Hayden (@GenMhayden) June 16, 2018
So does MSNBC star Rachel Maddow’s on-air breakdown during a discussion of so-called “tender age” shelters:
The entire nation is crying with Rachel Maddow. How can the United States of America have internment camps designed for babies? What ICE agent has the ability to rip a baby from a mom’s begging, outstretched arms? pic.twitter.com/sf3J3Mglzq
— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) June 20, 2018
While I think the Nazi comparisons are absurd, an immense amount of the online anguish is very, very real. And why not? It is atrocious for the government to take children out of the arms of fit parents — especially when those parents are seeking the protection of an asylum system that is established by American law.
And so, given this pain, regardless of differences on the question of “catch and release” versus detention, we ought to at least agree that families should stay together, right? After all, this is an emergency. We’ve heard the wailing children. We’ve seen the heartbreaking images. Let’s stop this.
And, indeed, Congress is showing rare signs of life. As early as tomorrow, the House may vote on a broad immigration bill that includes language ending family separation. The Senate is focusing on a narrower bill. While no one credible is saying that Democrats should sign on, now, to every aspect of the various GOP plans, given the emergency — given the Nazi menace — you’d think they’d at least be signaling their intention to work with GOP colleagues on ending the present crisis and prohibiting future presidents from taking a child from his mother’s arms.
You’d think so, but you’d be wrong. Yesterday, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said this:
“There are so many obstacles to legislation and when the president can do it with his own pen, it makes no sense,” Schumer told reporters. “Legislation is not the way to go here when it’s so easy for the president to sign it.”
What? I’m sorry, but this is absurd. One the one hand, we’re told that the president is a moral monster who can’t be trusted. On the other hand, we’re now also being told that the branch of government designed to check and even override the president shouldn’t play a part in ending bad policy?
Why rely on the administration at all? If the family-separation policy is so toxic that it leads serious people to tweet images of concentration camps and reduces a television host to tears, shouldn’t you respond to the emergency by tying the president’s hands?
In fact, legislation is the only way to truly ensure that family separation ends. The Trump administration is signaling that it will sign an executive order to “keep families together,” but it’s unclear how he can do so in asylum cases without reverting to Obama-era “catch and release” policies. Controlling legal authority requires immigration authorities to release children after 20 days of detention.
If he tries to “keep families together,” he’s begging for a legal challenge that he’ll almost certainly lose.
But why rely on the administration at all? If the family-separation policy is so toxic that it leads serious people to tweet images of concentration camps and reduces a television host to tears, shouldn’t you respond to the emergency by tying the president’s hands?
If and when the GOP puts legislation forward, the Democrats have a choice to make. Will they respond in a manner that matches their rhetoric, or will they play a political game — using the plight of families as a wedge issue in the midterms? Even even if they win the House — or capture the House and a bare majority in the Senate (unlikely, but possible) — they still won’t be able to unilaterally force the president’s hand. They will have successfully ridden public anger into political power, but they won’t have ensured an end to the crisis.
That’s a cynical political game. That’s business as usual in a broken government.
If we face a crisis, then politicians should act like it. If we can stop family separation today, then we should. No, that doesn’t mean Democrats should cave to every GOP demand (nor does it mean that the GOP should lard up a bill with known poison pills), but it does mean signaling a willingness to reach across the aisle, build a veto-proof majority, and defy an administration you claim you don’t trust.
One of the great cons of contemporary politics is the manner in which elected officials falsely stoke rage and fury for the sake of personal gain and political ambition. The gap between rhetoric and action is so great that contemporary politics is best compared to the WWE. The conflict is play-acted for the cameras, but too many members of the public don’t know that what they’re watching is fake. So they feel real emotion. They feel a real sense of crisis. And Washington rolls on with politics as usual.
This time, however, there’s a chance to break through. This time, there’s a chance for the legislature to actually check the executive on a matter of real importance. The GOP seems ready to move. But the party that’s acting most alarmed is balking — reverting to conventional political machinations. It’s time to decide, Democrats: Will your actions match your rhetoric or not?