John Moore’s image should have been enough.
The professional photographer was the eye behind the lens that captured a 2-year-old Honduran asylum seeker crying as her mother was being searched and detained at night near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12 in McAllen, Texas. Mother and daughter had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents before being sent to a processing center for possible separation.
As a breaking news image, it did its job as events were unfolding. It captured the absolute fear of a child whose mother was being searched, questioned and handcuffed by men in military uniforms. It was the first in a string of such photos that shook the American conscience.
Many wondered, is this what we have become as a country? And the answer is yes. Yes, this is what our country, under the presidency of Donald J. Trump, has become. The images speak volumes, saying the United States – our country – is so cruel and heartless that it takes babies from their mothers, perhaps never to be reunited.
First, for context: Crossing the border illegally is a misdemeanor. Like jaywalking. Also, seeking asylum at the border is not a crime. And in our country, under our rule of law, all are innocent until proven guilty.
Then again, this has become Trump’s America – or at least Trump’s Republican Party – where innuendo, slander and character assassination have replaced truth and decency, where signs of autocratic authoritarianism is rearing its ugly, fascist head. In Trump’s America, it is trendy to target the most vulnerable among us, especially if bigotry and racism are at play.
Remember the travel ban against the majority Muslim countries? Remember the “very fine people” on the side of the white nationalists and Nazis in Charlottesville?
Or, from the very beginning of his presidential campaign, disparaging Mexican immigrants as criminals and “rapists”?
Remember just last year the president saying 15,000 recent immigrants from Haiti “all have AIDS” and that 40,000 Nigerians, once seeing the United States, would never “go back to their huts” in Africa? And earlier this year, Trump vulgarly calling for less immigration from Haiti and Africa – and more from Norway?
That’s just a small sample.
On May 7, Attorney General Jeff Sessions publicly announced that the Department of Justice would prosecute anyone illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border – again, a misdemeanor – and separate children from parents. In separate speeches before law enforcement officials in Arizona and California, Sessions was expanding on the “zero tolerance” policy against illegal immigration he had first announced a month earlier.
On that very same day in May, because the truth is stranger than fiction in everything attached to this administration, First Lady Melania Trump was launching her first White House initiative focused on improving children’s well-being.
We kid you not.
In his Arizona appearance, Sessions talked tough. “If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. ...
If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.”
And that is exactly what the U.S. Border Patrol has been up to – separating children from their parents – because of a simple policy change. And, as it turns out, it’s been going on awhile. In December, a group of six immigration organizations documented at least 175 cases of family separation at the border in 2017.
And now we have a humanitarian crisis on our hands. President Trump may have signed an executive order last month to end the separation of families, but his administration is not making any special efforts to immediately reunite the 2,300 children who have already been separated.
Many may never be reunited. Ever. For a misdemeanor.
This was all so needless. (In signing the order), the president caved to political pressure, not to compassionate consideration of how the kids were being treated. And that speaks to the hollowness at the core of the man. There is no moral compass to a person who says, as Trump did at a campaign rally, “We have to take the children away.”
We are doubtful that this crisis is going away anytime soon, executive order or not, but we do know that we are less as a nation today because of it.
Look again. That is our image in the viewfinder.