If a nation is judged by the way it treats children, the United States should stand condemned. The latest manifestation of US President Donald Trump’s racism and xenophobia is a set of inhumane policies that violate children’s human rights and place their lives in danger.
In recent months, the US authorities have taken to separating undocumented migrant children – even babies – from their parents at the US-Mexican border. Outrage has grown over the horrid practice, which serves to placate and incite the white supremacists among Trump’s core supporters, who aspire to make the US a whites-only nation by halting the immigration of people of colour.
The US immigration system has been dysfunctional and cruel for years. Mass deportations took place even under President Barack Obama. A report from the American Civil Liberties Union found that detained immigrant children were subjected to widespread physical, sexual, psychological and verbal abuse and denial of food and water between 2009 and 2014, under the Obama administration.
Each year, immigration officials apprehend and detain approximately 8,000 unaccompanied immigrant minors, who are not guaranteed a right to a lawyer. Some children in US custody have even been released to human traffickers in the past.
However, for the first time under the Trump administration, the government is now forcefully taking children away from their parents as part of an official punitive measure. Even people who are asylum seekers and fleeing violence and oppression in their home countries are not spared.
Officials are also preparing to imprison these children on military bases, in a move reminiscent of the internment of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during World War II.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently articulated the zero-tolerance crackdown on children, saying: “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”
From October until mid-April, before Sessions’ announcement, over 700 children had been separated from their families, including over 100 under the age of four. In one case, a Congolese woman was detained in a facility in San Diego after seeking asylum, while her seven-year-old daughter was locked up thousands of miles away in Chicago.
Between May 9 and May 15, 658 children were separated from their parents, who were then referred for prosecution. Undocumented parents who have been separated from their children are forced to wear yellow bracelets, eerily reminiscent of the yellow badges the Nazis forced Jews to wear.
And because this is America, companies are already trying to profit from the racial exploitation and imprisonment of children. In Texas, Geo Group, a private prison corporation wrote legislation that – if passed – would have allowed family detention centres to be classified as childcare facilities, thereby increasing the time Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would have detained women and children. The company already has special transport buses designed solely for children, complete with child car seats with cupholders.
Trump, who has called immigrants animals, murderers and rapists from “sh****le” countries, has continued with his disgusting rhetoric. “We have the worst immigration laws of any country, anywhere in the world. They exploited the loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors,” Trump has said, claiming, “They look so innocent. They’re not innocent.”
Unfortunately, it is not surprising that Trump’s anti-immigrant measures are so dehumanising. After all, their proponents are people who subscribe to white nationalist, xenophobic ideologies and are members of hate groups.
Trump’s senior adviser Stephen Miller is a far-right and anti-immigration activist. Miller, who ironically is the great-grandson of Jewish refugees from Belarus, once helped Richard Spencer, the president of the white supremacist National Policy Institute, with fundraising and promotion for an on-campus debate on immigration policy.
Ronald Mortensen, Trump’s nominee for assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, is a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies. This organisation is a designated hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly – whose ancestors came to the US from Italy some decades ago – has claimed that undocumented immigrants are “not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society” because they are rural, uneducated people who don’t speak English. He also said recently that: “The children will be taken care of – put into foster care or whatever.”
Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state and Trump voter fraud adviser, is a candidate for governor of Kansas who has crafted draconian laws across the country, allowing state and local police unprecedented power to arrest suspected undocumented immigrants.
In a nation that has a history of kidnapping, brutalising and murdering people of colour for hundreds of years, migrant children are now being labelled “the other” and their mistreatment and abuse is being normalised.
What is happening now to them has never happened to white children. But it has happened to black and Native American children. During slavery, when black people were property and had no legal rights over their children, families were separated as a matter of course and were sold separately on the auction block. Similarly, Native American children were forcibly removed from their families and placed in white homes, institutions and boarding schools, in an attempt to assimilate them.
There will be no justice for the crimes committed in the past and the ones being committed now in Trump’s America. As he said recently at the US Naval Academy commencement exercises, “our ancestors tamed a continent” and “we are not going to apologise for America.”
This is American fascism in action.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.