Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: A cruel and telling indifference


Often it’s just a detail, a seemingly small thing, that turns out to be most revelatory and most damning. In the case of President Trump’s policy of separating parent from child at the border, the detail that tells all involves the difficulty of trying to reunite the hundreds of families that were split apart under the now-abandoned program.

The administration has no process by which to accomplish it.

“The biggest problem, as far as I can tell, is where the kids’ records don’t have information on the parents,” one Homeland Security Department official explained to Politico. “I don’t know how they’re going to go about fixing that.”

Others tell a similar story. After touring one facility, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) said that as far as he could learn, the administration had no established system for even tracking children and parents, let alone putting families back together.

“That’s nuts,” he told reporters.

"When the family separation policy was implemented, there doesn't seem to have been any planning as to how parents were going to know where their children were, how children were going to know where their parents were, how they were going to be able to communicate and how they would be able to be reunited," Mark Greenberg, an expert at the Migration Policy Institute, told CNN.

The Justice Department is handling prosecution of those parents. The Department of Homeland Security is handling detention of the parents. The Department of Health and Human Services is contracting with the private shelters to hold the children. No cross-agency system exists to communicate among the three, and the administration has put the onus on imprisoned parents, not on the bureaucracy, to find and reclaim their children.

As a result, parents are being deported without their children, without even knowing where their children are. They are being sent back to Third World countries with poor communications systems, and in most cases they lack the education, experience and economic resources needed to reach back to the United States and negotiate the bureaucracy. Experts say it is very likely that some families will never be reunited, which means that we have created orphans through sheer bureaucratic indifference.

Under any administration but this one, that would be unbelievable. But as noted Tuesday, the three hallmarks of a Trump policy are cruelty, deception and incompetence, and all three seem to be on brilliant display here. 

As a policymaker, if you decide that separating parent from child is a necessity to deter the flow of asylum seekers, if you somehow convince yourself that’s a wise and moral policy, then surely -- surely surely surely -- you recognize that you have taken on a fundamental responsibility. Out of respect for the basic unit of human life, the family, surely you make it a priority to ensure that what you have forcibly dismantled, you can later put back together again.

As a leader responsible for others, as a human being, surely you do that much.

They did not do that much.

You could call that incompetence, which it is, but its import runs much deeper. The failure of the Trump administration to perform that basic function, to carry out the basic responsibility that they placed upon themselves, tells us that they just did not give a damn. They didn’t see these families as human beings to whom they had an obligation. In the terminology of the president, they saw them as an “infestation.”


Reader Comments ...


About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.