There is a horrifying scene unfolding at America's southern border, with the U.S. government forcibly taking children away from fleeing parents
seeking asylum. Why aren't social conservatives, who supposedly hold family values and cohesion in such high esteem, outraged over what's happening?
After all, they spent last week justifiably howling over the British government's refusal to let a mom and dad fly their 2-year-old son, who was on life support and has since died, to the Vatican for treatment. But when it comes to the rights of the parents and children at their own doorstep? Nada. Not a word.
For months now, the Trump administration has been literally kidnapping children from parents arriving at the border in search of asylum and sending them off to prison-like detention camps thousands of miles away. In one particularly egregious case, authorities seized the 7-year-old daughter of a mother fleeing violence in Congo. Without offering her any explanation, they dispatched her little girl to a Chicago camp while holding the mother in San Diego. The mom wasn't being punished because she was trying to sneak in illegally. She presented herself to immigration authorities exactly as she was supposed to and even passed an initial screening to determine if she had a "credible fear" of harm in her home country. It took the ACLU four months of dogged petitioning before the distraught mother and the traumatized daughter were finally reunited.
In another case, an 18-month-old boy was taken away from his Honduran mother, who arrived at the Texas border. She showed the authorities copious records to prove that she was in fact the infant's mom, but they didn't care. They ordered her to place her baby in a government vehicle and drove him away to a San Antonio facility while she wept helplessly and her terrified son screamed inconsolably. She herself was detained in a facility in Taylor, Texas.
The administration pretends that these are isolated incidents but, in fact, a New York Times investigation a few weeks ago found more than 700 cases of parents and children separated just since October, including 100 under the age of 4. The ACLU has filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the parents.
This is all shocking, but shouldn't be surprising. Chief of Staff John Kelly talked openly about closing detention facilities that housed families together and making separation official U.S. policy back when he ran the Department of Homeland Security. He backed down after intense pushback but, it appears, the department quietly implemented the policy anyway.
However it happened, this much is clear: The Trump administration is intentionally inflicting trauma on innocent children as a deterrent measure in order to discourage their parents from coming to the United States.
Keeping the children and parents together has no bearing on whether they are eventually granted asylum. So what is the purpose of this cruelty? How do DHS officials justify it? By demonizing the parents. They claim that fleeing parents aren't trying to bring their kids to safety — they are using them as "human shields" to enhance their chances of being released into the United States while their asylum application is considered. This is grisly logic. And every family values conservative in this country ought to be appalled.
Compare the silence from these social conservatives to the cacophony set off by the case of Alfie Evans in England. Social conservatives in America were rightly outraged watching the sad spectacle of Alfie's parents being demonzied as religious zealots while begging the British government to let them make a last-ditch effort to save their son, who had a degenerative neurological disorder. But the government pulled the plug anyway, refusing even the pope's offer of free care, because the doctors insisted that this would only prolong Alfie's suffering—never mind that there was no sign that he was suffering.
He died over the weekend.
The hubris of British authorities was beyond staggering. It was extraordinarily presumptuous to appoint themselves the arbitrators of Alfie's best interests, over his parents, especially when his treatment wasn't going to cost British taxpayers a single shilling. This is the action of a totalitarian bureaucracy, convinced that its incomplete scientific judgment was superior to the certitudes of the parents' Catholic faith, taking it upon itself to dictate matters of private conscience.
Obviously, ending a child's life is vastly more serious than temporarily orphaning a child. But conservatives who howled about Alfie and remain silent on these immigrants are still engaging in rank hypocrisy, especially since unlike the British government, the Trump administration is not even pretending to act in the children's best interest.
If Alfie's family mattered, these immigrants' families matter, too.
Social conservatives might be tempted to argue that in Alfie's case, the British government was disenfranchising its own citizens, whereas in the case of border families, Uncle Sam is merely refusing to recognize the rights of the foreign born, something that it is under no obligation to do. But they of all people ought to understand that a government is only as good as the norms it is expected to hew to and uphold. If it has a free hand to assault some families in some instances it erodes the sanctity of the institution of the family itself, making it less able to withstand assaults by other interests for other reasons.
Conservative writer David French warns that Alfie's fate in Britain "foreshadows a dark American future" unless this country ditches its creeping secularism and recognizes the God-given rights of parents. But one doesn't need God to see that that future is already here — one only needs eyes.
He and his fellow conservatives should just turn their gaze from across the pond to what's happening right under their noses at the southern border.
This column originally ran in The Week