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Caged kids in context

The selective morality of our Oklahoma senators



It was the soap that got me.

There’s a woman named Sarah Fabian, a justice department lawyer, who has some disturbing views on hygiene and whether the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals requires sanitary conditions for detained migrant children.

Fabian said it depends.

The Trump Administration, in fact, for reasons that defied understanding, had appealed a 2017 ruling that it failed to provide such needs.

Judge A. Wallace Tashima—who spent years in a Japanese internment camp in America—said that, “everyone’s common understanding” is that such requirements are necessary for safe and sanitary conditions. “Wouldn’t everyone agree with that?” he asked. “Wouldn’t you agree with that?”

Fabian answered: “Well ... maybe ...”

Maybe.

How bad was her answer?

Her equivocation was equivocated.

When pressed further by a judge about whether a toothbrush and soap should always be provided to detainees, Fabian reportedly said the items aren’t necessarily required depending on the person’s length of stay.

If kids in concentration camps—yes, that’s the phrase, for these camps are concentrated with too many of them (and the term didn’t start with the Nazis)—without soap and toothpaste isn’t enough to move you, then you’re unmovable. If your first instinct upon seeing the images of these kids, snotty and dirty and scared, is to blame Barack Obama, your revisionism is shameless. If your defense of the Trump Administration policy of forced separations to places like Homeland, Florida and Clint, Texas is that they are not as bad as Dachau or Auschwitz, then … you lose me.

Which brings us to Oklahoma’s United States senators, Jim Inhofe and James Lankford, two men who can hear the heartbeat of an embryo but somehow miss the cries of a 6-year-old Salvadoran under a tin foil blanket.

But this is how the “pro-life” religious right operates: Life begins at conception and ends in a detention facility on the Mexico-Texas border.

Here’s Senator Jim Inhofe:

“Decades of immigration failures, made worse by the Obama Administration, have created such a crisis on the southern border that it is necessary to turn to military resources to assist unaccompanied minors arriving from Central America.”

If you’re keeping score, that’s Inhofe blaming the Obama Administration for Donald Trump’s decision to separate children from their parents and lock them up. While the previous administration deported more people than any in U.S. history—a record Trump himself has yet to match—the policy of ripping kids from their parents and incarcerating them en masse is new. 

In April 2018, the Trump administration issued a “zero tolerance” policy that directed US attorney’s offices on the border to prosecute as many cases of illegal entry and reentry as possible. Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the goal was to reach a 100 percent prosecution rate. When parents were taken into criminal custody, they were separated from their children, who were then turned over to the office of Health and Human Services and treated as unaccompanied minors. Under Bush and Obama, parents and children were not routinely separated to pursue criminal prosecutions for illegal entry and reentry. (Slate)

Aside from the inhumanity of it all, why this is important is that Oklahoma’s military resources are now back in the game.

The federal government plans to place as many as 1,400 unaccompanied migrant children in makeshift housing on the Fort Sill Army installation in Oklahoma, officials announced Tuesday. (CBS)

In 2014, Fort Sill was also used by the previous administration for similar purposes, when unaccompanied minors fleeing violence in Central America were held there. It was a decision about which Inhofe pouted, worrying that housing children on the base would “impede on the base’s vital responsibility to house and train new recruits.” Now that Trump is proposing the same protocol, with an added twist of cruelty, Inhofe is applauding like a trained seal and insists the kiddos won’t be a bother at all. 

“While I am disappointed that Democrats continue to ignore the crisis, I have spoken to the Trump administration and local base officials and am confident that, unlike in 2014, there is an organized, responsible plan for temporarily housing unaccompanied minors at Fort Sill that will not have an adverse impact to readiness or the missions at Fort Sill.”

Problem is, Inhofe’s reassurances come from an agency that doesn’t know how many children it has, how many it has lost, and how it’s going to get all the ones it still has back to their parents.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General published a report on Thursday revealing that the controversial policy to separate immigrant children from their parents was in place up to a year before it was publicly announced. Although the document admitted that, ‘Thousands of separated children’ were put under the department’s care dating from 2017, it said, ‘The total number of children separated from a parent or guardian by immigration authorities is unknown.’ (Newsweek)

For his part, Sen. James Lankford also has a peculiar confidence in the DHS—even though it keeps losing top personnel—and its promise to do a bang-up job at Fort Sill.

“When President Obama’s Administration used Ft. Sill to house UACs, I toured the facility to see the safe environment provided for unaccompanied minors, but I was frustrated by President Obama’s lack of engagement in the problem.”

UAC, by the way, refers to Unaccompanied Alien Children.

Nice, huh?

Lankford, who was frustrated by President Obama’s lack of engagement, is somehow convinced President Trump has the inner discipline to stay on point.

And then there’s this, from Lankford’s website: 

Five years after UACs were first housed at Ft. Sill, we still face the same crisis at the southern border with more and more people attempting to enter the US illegally or to gain entry via our broken asylum process. 

Nothing about those who present themselves at the border to seek asylum, which they’re legally allowed (and required) to do; nothing about the mettle and commitment of those who trudge across South America because it’s their last hope for the survival of their families; and nothing about those who see America as “a shining city upon a hill.”

Read Lankford on immigration—it’s on his website—and find for me the humanity.

I’ll wait.

Go to Inhofe’s. Find me his.

I’ll wait.

I am not talking about Inhofe’s and Lankford’s support of tax cuts and fewer regulations, or even an environmental policy that mocks climate change and hides scientific reports; nor their timidity when the president unconscionably sucks up to despots like Turkey’s Erdogan, Russia’s Putin, the Philippines’ Duterte, North Korea’s Kim, and Hungary’s Orbán; nor their votes for and advocacy of presidential cabinet secretaries who are a loose affiliation of incompetent, tactical-pant-wearing grifters and thieves; nor their support of a thousand other policies, actions, proclamations and legislative absurdities too numerous and embarrassing to list. Rather, I am talking about two senators—our two senators—and their inability or unwillingness to confront a president, this president, on the morality of separating children from their parents and jailing them in cages.

Full stop.

James Lankford:

“Oklahomans and our nation are divided on the issue of when life begins, but most Oklahomans know by now that I believe life begins at conception and that I believe each child in the womb is created in the image of God and has value and worth.” 

Jim Inhofe:

“At 20 weeks, an unborn child can hear, kick, stretch, yawn & above all #TheyFeelPain.”

If only those kids under foil-wrapped blankets were still in the womb.

This is America—a week in which the president was accused for the 22nd time of assaulting a woman and joked with Vladimir Putin about killing journalists on the anniversary of five reporters being assassinated in Annapolis; a month in which a president enjoyed a good laugh with a Korean dictator over a Democratic presidential candidate and mocked John McCain (again); a year in which the president sided with a Russian leader over his own CIA and lied about women who kill their babies after giving birth to them, and … and … and …

And now children, in this America, under his policy, are prisoners in army bases and for-profit detention centers. 

How awful is it all? The editor of Highlights Magazine—Highlights Magazine, for the love of God—is calling for it to end.

This is not a political statement about immigration policy. This is a statement about human decency, plain and simple. This is a plea for recognition that these are not simply the children of strangers for whom others are accountable. This is an appeal to elevate the inalienable right of all children to feel safe and to have the opportunity to become their best selves. We invite you—regardless of your political leanings—to join us in speaking out against family separation and to call for more humane treatment of immigrant children currently being held in detention facilities. Write, call, or email your government representatives. 

When do we ask Inhofe and Lankford—their plus 60 percent approval ratings notwithstanding, their tropes of advocating for our God and guns while protecting us from gays and socialism notwithstanding—to jettison their fealty, if only this once, to a bulbous, self-aggrandizing, incoherent wannabe king and think first of the country?

How about now?

The kids don’t have soap.

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