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Children, caves and cages

7/21/2018, 9 a.m.
Around the world, our attention was riveted on the plight of the boys and the coach of the Wild Boars ...

Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.

Around the world, our attention was riveted on the plight of the boys and the coach of the Wild Boars soccer team trapped in a cave in Northern Thailand. All 12 boys and their coach have been saved. 

Courageous scuba divers volunteered at no small risk to their lives. One was killed when he ran out of oxygen on his way out of the cave. Doctors, hospitals and child psychiatrists stood at the ready to help those who were saved.

Our hearts went out to the parents, hoping against hope that a miracle would happen. This global empathy for the young children’s lives in peril is remarkable. It also raises the obvious question: Why is the same human response less intense for the 2,300 children who were separated from their parents and housed in cages across this country?

We were fixated on the 12 stranded in a cave on the other side of the world, yet paid less attention to the 2,300 who were locked in cages around the corner. The 2,300 suffer not because of a natural disaster but because of an arbitrary change in policy designed to punish and terrorize. The Trump administration, reflecting the temper of their boss, traumatized these children and their parents with the abrupt and mindless proclamation in May of “zero tolerance” for undocumented immigrants, even those seeking asylum.

The forcible separation of children from their parents followed. The human rights catastrophe keeps getting worse. In late June, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar assured distraught migrant parents that there was “no reason” that they couldn’t find their toddlers.

But HHS, in charge of the children’s welfare, apparently doesn’t have a clue about how many children it has under its authority, where the children are, or where and who their parents are. Under court order to unite the children under age 5 with their parents by July 17, and all other children by July 26, Mr. Azar is now pleading for more time from the court. 

The New York Times reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials deleted records that would enable officials to connect parents with children who had been ripped from them. This is an unspeakable and inexcusable violation of innocent children. Child experts warn that the children may well be scarred for life.

How can we not weep with the father distraught that his little boy could have no chance of protecting himself in a mass cage? 

The Washington Post reported that demonstrators in Louisville, Ky., accosted GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, when he came out of a restaurant after being a no-show at a demonstration about the children.

“Where are the babies, Mitch?” they asked. The administration that Sen. McConnell slavishly defends is now scrambling to figure out the answer to that simple question. President Trump slanders undocumented immigrants as criminals, rapists and gangsters.

In fact, even as immigration has increased, the national rate of violent crime today is well below what it was in 1980. Parents don’t risk a perilous journey from their homes lightly. They come out of desperation, leaving villages racked by hunger and threatened by violence. Seeking asylum, they have rights under international law that the United States still nominally respects. The administration’s callous treatment of these children and their parents is not only shameful, but also an indefensible violation of basic human rights. 

The young boys trapped in a cave on the other side of the world deserved our prayers. The toddlers locked in cages in this country should spark our outrage. Continue to pray for the Wild Boars soccer team and the courageous heroes who rescued them.

Let us also keep in our hearts and prayers the 2,300 children ripped from their parents, transported to various parts of the United States and locked in cages. We need heroes to help save them and reunite them with the families. We need judges who will ensure that those who violated their rights are held responsible. And we need citizens to exercise their democratic rights to show that this is a better nation and we are a better people than this.

The writer is founder and president of the national Rainbow PUSH Coalition.