Xenophobia is certainly not a new occurrence from President Donald Trump. He ran his presidential campaign on building a wall and shutting people of other backgrounds out behind his incredibly expensive (but still hypothetical) wall. Since he has entered office, President Trump has tried his utmost to enact his alienating policies despite push-back from his own party as well as the Democrats in Congress. His latest adaptation is enacting his "zero tolerance" policy.
This zero tolerance policy incarcerates and plans to try every person, regardless of age or circumstance, who tries to cross the border in from Mexico illegally. President Trump and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions have said that this policy is necessary due to Obama-era Congressional laws. They proceeded to create several new ones and started to use established detention centers to detain kids of "tender age," older children and adults separately, regardless of breaking up families.
These children range in age from 8 to 9 months to around 13-years-old and are placed in "tender age" shelters, where they are detained while their parents are prosecuted. What's even more horrifying is that some detention shelters have hundreds of children locked up in cages of fencing and wire, like animals, to prevent them from escaping.
While the children in more permanent youth shelters are reportedly fed, clothed and taken good care of, they are often not allowed to communicate with their parents and are left traumatized as a result of the separation. Some of them may never see their parents again. Apart from being separated from the only people they were familiar with in a new country and being placed in a shelter with children and other caretakers they have never seen before, these children are even prohibited from hugging one another, a rule which caused immigrant shelter worker Antar Davidson to quit his job in protest.
A 16-year-old immigrant from Guatemala, Edmilson Aguilar Punay, described life in an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detention facility. He spoke of the "children crying all the time," the single toilet to which he had limited access and the crowded rooms with no windows. ICE officers reportedly often lied to the children, stating that they would be reunited with their parents even when said parents had already been deported. Even the food they were given was unhealthy and processed (fruit juice and chicken soup from the can), and the children often did not even know if it was night or day.
The conditions of the separated families is markedly similar to that of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. In fact, Japanese-American actor, director and activist George Takei has said that the conditions in which these children are being kept in are in fact worse than that of the Japanese internment. With hindsight at our side, this is now seen as one of the darkest periods of America's history as xenophobia swept the country as conflicts escalated overseas. The Japanese internment camps have been compared to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.
The current Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director James Homan reacted to the accusations of Nazi actions by saying that the department is "simply following orders." What Mr. Homan failed to realize is that this is the exact defense Nazi generals used when being tried in Nuremberg for their crimes. Nuremberg is also where we established the Nuremberg Code, a set of rules for respectful and humane research practices.
Despite the parallels, Attorney General Jeff Sessions also insists that our current policy is not the same as the Holocaust because the zero-tolerance policy is meant to deter people from coming into our country, and "they were keeping the Jews from leaving." Mr. Sessions, just because they are not our children does not mean we can treat them as poorly as your judgement functions.
Apart from the inhumane policy itself, on Fox News, Republican representative Corey Lewandowski publicly mocked a 10-year-old child with Down syndrome who was separated from her mother due to the policy. His nonchalance and lack of empathy for the situation at hand truly paints a picture of what some Republican politicians feel about the issue at hand. Moreover, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, was seen dining at a Mexican restaurant where protesters shamed her for eating in peace while having made a decision that led to the tearing apart of thousands of families.
Amid the chaos of detaining the children and parents of immigrant families separately, America's UN Ambassador Nikki Haley announced America's withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council due to perceived bias. She cited countries such as China and Venezuela violating human rights but continued to defend Israel despite their continuous persecution of Palestinians in permanent occupation and apartheid. She did not mention Saudi Arabia because, like Israel, they are our allies, so we can overlook their violations just as we do our own.
The United States has had a history of sidling up to not only general rights-violating countries but also their dictators.
President Donald Trump has kept this trend. He has dedicated money toward arming Saudi Arabia, despite their involvement in the bombing of women, children and families in Yemen. He recently had a summit with Kim Jong Un of North Korea. This in itself was not a poor move as diplomacy is always preferable to escalation, but Trump then proceeded to praise Kim Jong Un's choke-hold on power. Considering that Kim Jong Un traps the citizens of his country in poor, censored conditions in one of the biggest hostage situations in history, and the praising of his fascist ways is very concerning coming from one who is also willing to scrap human rights.
In late June, first lady Melania Trump visited the Upbring New Hope Children's Center in McAllen, Texas, a shelter that had reports of 12 health and safety violations. On her journey to the center, she wore the controversial coat from Zara with graphics that said "I Don't Really Care, Do U?" Her choice of clothing was considered deeply insensitive and disrespectful to the issue at hand. President Trump commented on it later, saying that it was simply a coat, and people should not look too far into things such as one's choice of clothing.
However, critics still deem that the wardrobe of a president and his first lady is chosen very carefully, and each piece is styled for a certain purpose, causing many to wonder what message the first lady was trying to convey.
The public has rightly been outraged at the measures taken by the Trump administration. Trump has since backed down from his stance in that he has instead decided that families will no longer be separated and then that those already separated would be made whole again.
While this is a good reversal, damage has already been done, and rights have been violated. Innocent children have been traumatized and the United States is further isolating itself from the discussion of global human rights. The fact that both this whole ordeal was allowed to occur and that top officials defended and still continue to defend these actions should cause Americans to worry about the state of their country and the beliefs representatives are portraying through their recent actions.