The hostage crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border

The Trump administration is holding children hostage. They can call it “family separation.” They can say that it’s meant as a “deterrent” to illegal border crossings. But, bottom line, this is a hostage situation.

It’s ironic—but not funny–that ICE agents and border patrol agents are yanking young children from the protective arms of their parents, many of whom are coming to the U.S. seeking asylum to protect their children from the harsh policies of other governments. They thought they were bringing their families to safety. Instead, they and their children are treated like criminals. Their only crime is trying to find a better life for their families.

These deplorable actions, under the guise of “zero tolerance” initiated by the Trump administration, can’t help but trigger flashbacks to the brutal policies of regimes that the United States has condemned in the past:  The Iran hostage crisis in 1979, for example. The worst image of all, of course, is the one that nobody wants to talk about: the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. I’m not saying that it’s a perfect parallel or the moral equivalent. But, seeing footage of children at our Southern border being pulled from their parents makes me shudder and conjures up images of “Sophie’s Choice.”

This new, cruel American policy is certainly wrong from a moral standpoint. Anyone with a shred of common sense—or with young children or grandchildren of their own—would recognize the pain that family separation would cause for parents and the emotional upheaval and damage it can cause for the children, for whom this is unfair, gratuitous punishment for crimes not committed. [They’d recognize it if they bothered to think about it, that is. But thinking about the human consequences is not something that Donald Trump or, apparently, his political advisers and policymakers do.]

Indeed, it appears that Trump and Sessions put in place “zero tolerance” not to meet a real problem, but as an expression of Trump’s own xenophobia and as a promise-kept to the white supremacists and America-firsters of his political base. [That political ploy may or may not be working: One of Trump’s staunchest media supporters—right-wing Conservative pundit Hugh Hewitt—recently questioned the necessity of such inhumane treatment in an interview with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.]

It’s worth noting, too, that the United Nations human rights office  has issued a statement demanding the United States “immediately halt” the policy of separating children from their families when they cross the border without proper immigration documentation.” A spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, said there is “nothing normal about detaining children,” and charged that “border control appears to take precedence over child protection and care in the U.S.,” according to the Associated Press. “The use of immigration detention and family separation as a deterrent runs counter to human rights standards and principles,” Shamdasani said during a press briefing in Geneva, Switzerland. “The child’s best interest should always come first.”

[The U.N. High Commission For Human Rights usually issues these kinds of statements to countries that are brutalizing their citizens, engaging in torture and/or violating areas of human rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a founding document of the United Nations. That is now the company the U.S. is keeping, as a result of Trump/Sessions’ family-separation policy.]

The moral depravity of family separation is clear. But what about its legality? I’m not a lawyer, but I’m wondering if family separation could be construed as a criminal act. To me, what is happening sounds a lot like kidnapping—you might even call it institutional kidnapping. The online Legal Dictionary  defines kidnapping as:

…the crime of unlawfully seizing and carrying away a person by force or fraud, or seizing and detaining a person against his or her will with an intent to carry that person away at a later time.

And what about false imprisonment? According to Wikipedia:

False imprisonment occurs when a person is restricted in their personal movement within any area without justification or consent. Actual physical restraint is not necessary for false imprisonment to occur. False imprisonment is a common-law felony and a tort. It applies to private as well as governmental detention.

I’ll leave further legal speculation and arguments to organizations who actually know the law. Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] sued ICE for separating hundreds of migrant families. According to NPR:

“Whether or not the Trump administration wants to call this a ‘policy,’ it certainly is engaged in a widespread practice of tearing children away from their parents. A national class-action lawsuit is appropriate because this is a national practice,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement.

The ACLU said in its lawsuit that previous administrations “did not have a practice of forcibly separating fit parents from their young children.” It added that the parents involved in the lawsuit have never received negative accusations about how they care for their children.

Having observed how our Attorney General and his boss behave, I doubt that they’ve given any of these moral, legal or common-sense considerations a second [let alone a first, in the case of Trump] thought. Trump himself has been very public in his attempt to dehumanize people who try to enter the U.S. illegally—famously calling them “animals,” as well as “rapists and murders.”  That tactic—used by authoritarian and cruel regimes throughout history—has proven very effective in making inhumane treatment acceptable. And here we are.

If you’re old enough to remember the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, you’ll probably also remember that the crisis sparked the popularity of ABC News’ “Nightline.” Hosted by veteran journalist Ted Koppel, the show zeroed in on the hostage crisis, with daily updates, under the banner, “America Held Hostage,” and an accompanying tally of the number of days since Americans had been locked up in Tehran. We could use a show like that today, not just because children are being held hostage at our border, but also because we are all being held hostage to the lawlessness, the intentional chaos, the pervasive corruption and the erosion of democracy inflicted on America by the Trump administration.