Cruelty is the Point of Trump’s Border Policy

Not a new observation, but one that should not be forgotten.

“Behind LIberty” by Steven L. Taylor is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

In the ramp up the Fourth of July holiday, the President of the United States tweeted out the following:

It has becomes almost a cliche on Twitter to comment that “cruelty is the point” regarding stories about the detention centers at the border. It is one thing to infer that cruelty, but it is yet whole other level to have the head of government basically admit that the cruel mess he has created is intended to act as a deterrent. The policy is quite clear.

This is not news, of course. I wrote about the clear policy intend behind child separation over a year ago (This Moment in Time), and things have not only not gotten better, then have clearly worsened.

This kind of calculated mistreatment of human beings (indeed, of children) is especially galling during the week that we celebrate a founding document whose most important phrase is “all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.”

Note this cartoon was making the rounds yesterday (note that “cuarto” can mean fourth and room in Spanish and Julio is both the month and a common boy’s name):

The quote isn’t that just people from the British colonies had rights. It is a universal declaration of human rights. Indeed, that central understanding of human rights is foundational to western liberalism (you know, the one Vladimir Putin wants to be obsolete and the one DJT doesn’t understand).

But, of course, Trumpian nationalism categorizes people into “Americans with rights” and “everyone else.”

And yes, some will object: we can’t take care of everyone. All well and good, but we aren’t being asked to take care of everyone. We are being asked to take care of a set of people who are clearly desperate and in need of aid. Human compassion suggests that we should be working to provide that aid, not to mention the doctrines of our dominant religious tradition.*

Moreover, the migrants who are coming are not all looking to be taken care of. They either are seeking family in the US to help them out and/or they are willing to work. And, it should be stressed, asylum-seeking is legal.

But, instead of human compassion and an acknowledgement of our alleged core values, we get Trump’s tweet and stories like following:

Via ProPublica: Inside the Secret Border Patrol Facebook Group Where Agents Joke About Migrant Deaths and Post Sexist Memes.

Members of a secret Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents joked about the deaths of migrants, discussed throwing burritos at Latino members of Congress visiting a detention facility in Texas on Monday and posted a vulgar illustration depicting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez engaged in oral sex with a detained migrant, according to screenshots of their postings.

Via The Atlantic: The Exceptional Cruelty of a No-Hugging Policy

On Monday, when ProPublica released the now infamous seven-and-a-half minutes of audiotape recorded inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, in which several wailing kids can be heard crying out for their moms and dads, Darcia Narvaez clicked the link and told herself she’d do her best to listen to the whole thing.

Within seconds, however, Narvaez, a professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame who specializes in parenting and child development, had hit the mute button. “I mostly read the captions,” says Narvaez. She can’t stand hearing children cry for prolonged periods of time without being comforted, she says, “because I know their brains are being damaged.”

Ever since the Trump administration’s recent statement that it had separated nearly 2,000 children from parents facing charges of illegally crossing the border—a number since raised to more than 2,300—troubling reports from inside the shelters where those children have been detained have proliferated. Many describe conditions in which, whether by official policy or not, shelter staff are prohibited or prevented from hugging or touching the detained kids—hundreds of whom are younger than 13 years old—to comfort them. Some testimonies, like the one from a former Tucson, Arizona, shelter worker, Antar Davidson (who quit last week because the shelter “didn’t have the trained staffing to handle the influx of younger, more traumatized children”), allegethat even siblings in the shelters are prevented from hugging one another

Via the NYT: Squalid Conditions at Border Detention Centers, Government Report Finds.

Overcrowded, squalid conditions are more widespread at migrant centers along the southern border than initially revealed, the Department of Homeland Security’s independent watchdog said Tuesday. Its report describes standing-room-only cells, children without showers and hot meals, and detainees clamoring desperately for release.

The findings by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General were released as House Democrats detailed their own findings at migrant holding centers and pressed the agency to answer for the mistreatment not only of migrants but also of their own colleagues, who have been threatened on social media.

The question should rightly be asked: what should we do?

I think any reasonable answer has to start with deciding what our values actually are. I prefer the ones that see the importance of treating humans humanely and seeing our inherent equality rather than first seeing nationality or skin color. Further, fear should not drive policy.

First, whether we like it or not, we are going to have to spend the money needed to help these people. We can afford it and it is the right thing to do.

Second, we need to stop trying to use zero tolerance logic, family separation, and harsh conditions as conscious policies meant to deter migration. Not only is that approach clearly and empirically inefficacious, but it is simply inhumane and cruel.

Third, rather than pretend like a wall or some magic policy is going to stop migration, we need to figure out how to handle it. This includes trying to deal with root causes in Central America as well as acquiescing to the obvious pull of the US economy. It isn’t as if we are running out of room or don’t have labor needs.

We need to remember that we are a nation of immigrants. That immigrants do assimilate. That we are by no means running out of room. That we all gain, ultimately, from the integration of new people and ideas. That immigrants pay taxes and contribute. That, actually, we could use more people.

Of course, I recognize that my policy prescriptions assume a) migrants are going to come, and b) that isn’t an inherently bad thing. Maybe part of that is straight-up that foreigners don’t scare me. I think a lot of it is an understanding of own history (i.e., one largely of fairly open borders) as well as the clear social science that shows immigrant groups assimilate into the broader culture over time.

I will say that, sure, there are legitimately different ways to address how to allow immigrants into the country, some of which are more welcoming than others. Let’s have that debate, but I reject walls and detention centers. Not only are they cruel, they don’t even work.


*See this post, which started as a footnote and, well, grew.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Donald Trump, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Gustopher says:

    It is one thing to infer that cruelty, but it is yet whole other level to have the head of government basically admit that the cruel mess he has created is intended to act as a deterrent. The policy is quite clear.

    Except, they are going out of their way to hide the conditions in their summer concentration camps from public view, so it’s not intended as a deterrent. That’s also how you know it’s not really a funding issue — they would be showing off the terrible conditions and blaming the Demoncrats for not funding them. Instead, funding is an excuse they drag out after they are discovered.

    They are shuffling children around as soon as they are discovered in overcrowded camps, so the return visit shows less overcrowding. Where did the children go? They don’t answer. The kids were packed into another camp.

    The hidden cruelty isn’t meant as a deterrent, it’s just to be cruel. The long stays in the summer detention concentration camps probably is meant as a deterrent (if you come, we will just lock you up), but everything else is just purely sadistic.

    I’m expecting stories of ICE agents raping women and children — it’s what usually happens when men (and ICE is mostly male) with no accountability are put in charge of vulnerable people that they view as lesser.

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  2. An Interested Party says:

    I find it amusing that some conservatives, like those at National Review, scoff at what they perceive as liberals trashing America…but from the torture committed during the Bush Administration to the cruel treatment of illegal immigrants now, this country has a lot to answer for…of course no country is perfect, and our history is full of horrors, but the principle is that we’re supposed to get better, that we’re supposed to try to live up to a certain set of ideals…obviously that’s currently not happening…

  3. gVOR08 says:

    Of late I keep being reminded of an old, undeservedly obscure, movie, Cheyenne Autumn. The US Cavalry is chasing down a group of Indians who had been maltreated on their reservation and fled. Sgt. Wichowski had fled Poland because of the Cossacks, a Cossack

    kills Poles just because they’re Poles. Like we’re trying to kill Indians just because they’re Indians.
    Capt. Thomas Archer (Richard Widmark): Come on, Wichowski. You fought Indians before!
    Sr. First Sergeant: I fought Indians who wanted to fight me, not just some poor blanket-heads trying to go home!

    Through the movie he asks, “Are we the Cossacks?”

  4. Stormy Dragon says:

    Every year, 3.9 million people arrive in the US who do not speak our language, know nothing of our culture, who are significantly more likely to become criminals than other immigrants, and who will require 18+ years of extensive welfare before they will be capable of becoming productive members of society. We call them native-born children.

    If we can successfully assimilate all of them, we can easily handle the less than 60,000 asylum seekers who arrive each year.

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  5. Teve says:

    The question should rightly be asked: what should we do?

    I think any reasonable answer has to start with deciding what our values actually are.

    I saw a talk about foreign policy and game theory by Simon Sinek, and he argued that even though it’s less efficient in the short-term, a country like the United States needs to make all of its decisions from the basis of its good values. If it does, it’ll attract support and allies and goodwill. And if it doesn’t it winds up always scheming for tactical victories in incoherent ways.

    The Facebook group wasn’t just gross. The agencies lied to Congress and tried to hide the fact that they’ve known about it for years and did nothing. Heads need to roll.

  6. Gustopher says:

    @Teve: AOC’s radical call to “abolish ICE” is sounding less and less radical.

    Top to bottom, that agency needs to be rebuilt.

  7. Teve says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Post of the Week

  8. Gustopher says:

    Further, fear should drive policy.

    Dr. Taylor, I suspect you are missing a “not” here…

  9. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Gustopher:

    It’s becoming obvious that law enforcement in general has been infiltrated by white supremacist groups, and we need to set up independent commissions to root them out and purge them. Some of the law enforcement unions in particular seem to be actively abetting this, with the NBPC being a particularly egregious offender.

  10. Gustopher says:

    The question should rightly be asked: what should we do?

    I would ask a different question: how should we do it?

    I think the policy of locking up refugees is wrong, but… elections do have consequences, and fixing the problem at the source (stabilizing the Central American countries) is going to take a long time. I would prefer we just accept in this wave of refugees, but that’s a policy decision.

    “We will keep the refugees safe, but return them when we can” is a policy that I certainly don’t endorse, but could accept. Regardless of the policy decisions, we should respect human rights.

    If we are going to have refugee camps, we should have humane refugee camps. If we want to keep refugees in Mexico, we could set some refugee camps up on the Mexican side of the border, make them more lavish than any on the US side, and make that clear and well known. But have the Red Cross and other organizations able to inspect, and ensure the conditions are fine at all the refugee camps.

    We probably cannot solve the problems in Honduras and Guatemala, as the countries’ governments are not going to work with us. How about a Marshall Plan for Mexico, where the government would work with us, so the refugees stay there? Mexico will pay for it, bill due in 50 years, at which time some future president/congress will forgive it…

    A stronger Mexico makes our borders more secure.

    There are ways to implement these (wrong) policies and achieve these (bad, white-nationalist) goals that aren’t terrible.

  11. MarkedMan says:

    (Legitimate Godwin Alert) When I was in grade school the whole lot of us were marched down to our assembly hall and shown a black and white documentary about the Nazi death camps. Like many, I was horrified. But I suspect unlike many of my fellow students my worst fears weren’t about the Nazis themselves but rather all the regular Germans who I assumed were basically like all my neighbors. As I sat there with that 16mm projector clicking and flickering I looked around in the grey light at all those kids surrounding me and wondered how many of them would go along with atrocity whether by indifference or hatred or ambition.

    Now I know the answer. 43%.

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  12. @Stormy Dragon: Indeed.

    @Gustopher:

    AOC’s radical call to “abolish ICE” is sounding less and less radical.

    I have actually been sympathetic to the notion of abolishing ICE, at least in the sense of a rebuild. I think we made a mistake in creating it from the beginning with an anti-terrorism mission. We are over-emphasizing security on the border.

  13. @Gustopher:

    Dr. Taylor, I suspect you are missing a “not” here…

    Indeed–thanks for noting that.

  14. CSK says:

    Of course it’s cruelty. Trump is a sadist. He has no humor. The only thing he delights in is the suffering of others.

  15. Cheryl Rofer says:

    We must do something now. We must demonstrate in the streets. Yes, we have to figure out solutions, but we must end the concentration camps.

    Lights for Liberty is holding vigils across the world Friday, July 12. There is one in Santa Fe. I’ll be there.

  16. Ken_L says:

    not to mention the doctrines of our dominant religious tradition

    Is there any religion which would condone the treatment these refugees are receiving?

    Trump has stated he wants more immigrants. He wants them from countries like Norway, not the shithole countries. His position is overtly racist, and more people should be saying so.

  17. Kit says:

    the week that we celebrate a founding document whose most important phrase is “all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.”

    Is there anything in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights that draws a distinction between rights that are unalienable, and those that apply only to citizens?

    And if you can forgive me being a bit of a sh!t stirrer, what do you say to the following?

    If we are to take seriously the claims that religious teachings and doctrines are of significant to the lives of those who claim adherence to a specific faith group (and I think we should), then it is not unfair to look to those doctrines to see what that religion says about how it expects its adherents to behave. I think that this is no different than assuming that if a person claims to adhere to a specific ideology or philosophy that they ought to be held to the standards they profess to respect

    Given the country’s founding philosophy of human rights, just what percentage of its citizens actually adhere to it?

  18. @Ken_L:

    Is there any religion which would condone the treatment these refugees are receiving?

    Indeed, not. I only bring up the US’s dominant tradition because we are the one’s inflicting the policy (and because the president gets a lot of support from vocal supports of that religion.

  19. @Kit:

    Is there anything in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights that draws a distinction between rights that are unalienable, and those that apply only to citizens?

    Nope. (Except voting and holding office).

    Given the country’s founding philosophy of human rights, just what percentage of its citizens actually adhere to it?

    That’s the thing with ideals, they are hard to live up to. But that doesn’t mean we can’t point out where we fall short and insist that we try harder.

  20. Kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    That’s the thing with ideals, they are hard to live up to. But that doesn’t mean we can’t point out where we fall short and insist that we try harder.

    Unfortunately, I strongly suspect that large segments of the population are downright hostile to the country’s founding principles. People who cheering kids in cages are not failing to live up to democratic or even Christian ideals: they actively reject those ideals. Back in the day, some outrage would be committed, but a spokesman would come out to say something soothing. You know: yes, that was terrible but listen to why this was necessary… Or maybe the sorry affair would be denied. That sort of talk is dead. And why? Because our past ideals no longer speak to people who vote Republican.

  21. @Kit:

    Because our past ideals no longer speak to people who vote Republican.

    Knowing that you know that I think Trump has to go and that the GOP has major problems, I don’t think this is wholly fair.

    This is like saying all Democrats were totally cool with the drone war, which was also cruel and terrible.

  22. Kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Point taken: I paint with too broad a brush. But 1) I think that it takes a hell of a contortionist to believe in universal human rights while continuing to vote Republican, and 2) given our general poor results in education, I don’t expect Democrats to score fantastically well when it comes to distinguishing their own founding principles from those of Communism, Christianity, or just Hallmark bromides. How many would die to protect free speech, for example, Right or Left? Basically, I see hostility on one side and doubt on the other.

  23. Teve says:

    The Border Patrol people in that gross FaceBook group started deleting their posts as soon as news reports exposed them, but some news orgs archived lots of the posts. Here’s a story showing a bunch of them.

    Warning they are gross and horrible and #MAGA and nobody should click on this link for any reason.

    Do not click on this.

  24. Bokonon says:

    @Kit: I think we are talking Confederate values here … like how during the Civil War, the society ladies would come as sight-seers, and stand on the ramparts, go and jeer and mock the raggedy, starving Union soldiers in the Andersonville prison camp.

    One of my ancestors died of mistreatment there.