What does the American left do when a year of hyperbole about Russian subversion and full-blown fascism in the White House fails to make the nation repent for electing Donald Trump? After eighteen unrelenting months of Red Scare and Brown Scare, President Trump’s approval numbers were higher than ever. What do the people who hate this president have left to try?
The answer is a children’s crusade. Since February, progressives have hit upon the idea of using children as political weapons. Is gun-control a dead-end issue in a nation where forty-one per cent of adults either own a firearm or live with someone who does? Then shift the discussion away from adults: focus on school shootings—even though those, like other gun crimes, are declining—and have students like David Hogg do the fighting for you. Only a bully would rhetorically beat up a kid, so no counter-thrust is possible. It’s a PR masterstroke. You love guns, but don’t you love kids more?
The moral blackmail is immaculate, as long as you don’t think too much about it. And the point of using children in politics is precisely to stop the unwary from thinking. Just consider how effectively children are used in war propaganda, for example.
Most Americans, including substantial numbers of the minorities for whom progressives claim to speak, want illegal immigration curbed. But what if the illegal immigrants are children? Focus on them, and you might short-circuit the public’s critical faculties. You might just provoke enough blind outrage that no one thinks to ask why children are being brought along in illegal and dangerous border crossings to begin with.
And why are they? Because thanks to a 2016 court ruling that modified the 1997 “Flores” consent decree, children cannot be held in federal immigration detention facilities for more than 20 days. If illegal immigrants arrive with children—not even their own children, necessarily—immigration officials have a choice of either releasing the adults and children without prosecution (which can take more than 20 days, especially when asylum claims are involved) or holding the children separately while the adults are prosecuted. The Obama administration chose “catch and release.” The Trump administration, which was elected on campaign vows to enforce the law, has chosen prosecution and separation. Critics of the Trump administration’s approach claim they simply want to keep families together. They downplay the wider reality, which is that they are calling for not prosecuting adult immigrants who use children as tickets to enter the country—as human “get out of jail free” cards.
The incentive is perverse but obvious: to lower your chance of being prosecuted, take somebody’s child with you when you attempt to enter the country illegally. Dare the government to prosecute you while the child gets sentenced to weeks in a refurnished Walmart. Count on open-borders advocates and Trump haters to emotionally blackmail the country into adopting the kind of immigration policies that Obama followed—the kind that Trump was elected to overturn. Elections and democracy are as nothing next to news with the right sentimental slant.
Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of Homeland Security, stated an inconvenient fact on June 18, when she noted that of the twelve thousand immigrant minors taken in by the federal government in this context, most—almost all—were not accompanied by their parents in the first place: “10,000 of those currently in custody were sent by their parents with strangers to undertake a completely dangerous and deadly travel alone.” In other words, if preventing children from being separated from their parents is the imperative here, in more than 83 per cent of cases the outrage should be directed elsewhere than toward the federal government. Attempts at illegal immigration, and not Trump policy, are separating parents from children in more than eight out of ten instances. The day after her remarks, Nielsen was hounded out of a restaurant by the Democratic Socialists of America—facts be damned.
Opponents of Trump’s immigration enforcement like to say that these immigrants are not really illegal, they’re legitimate asylum seekers. But they are not using the legitimate process of applying for asylum at a port of entry, and it does not appear that most irregular claims of asylum win acceptance. Opponents also claim that the administration has options beyond family separation or non-prosecution, such as building detention centers that can accommodate adults and children together. But the 2016 ruling that modified the Flores agreement declared that such facilities cannot have prison-like security—hardly an appropriate restriction for facilities meant to hold adults subject to prosecution. The options open to the administration are only variations on the basic dilemma: to release or to separate and prosecute.
Sentimentality has no room for such analysis: don’t think of the law, just think of the children. And don’t even think about them—just go with your feelings, guided by the ringmasters of outrage and hype. They have other kid causes in mind, too, now that they’re learning what works.