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Slimantics: Is this what America has become?


Slim Smith



You've probably been hearing a lot about the Trump Administration's "zero tolerance" policy on immigration, either from Trump and his surrogates or from every Mississippi Republican currently holding office in D.C. or campaigning for one of those seats. 


The Republicans have "had their blood up" for quite some time over the current state of immigration policy, which has been left largely unaddressed and unresolved over the past three presidential administrations. 


The focus on the topic hit critical mass in recent weeks when, under Trump's policy, children as young as three months of age were separated from their parents and put into cells as immigrant families sought asylum or refugee status in the U.S. 


The images of those children -- and audio of the children crying for their parents as they were taken away -- struck at the heart of decent Americans, revealing the ugliness of this administration in subjecting little children to abuse as a bargaining tactic designed to force Democrats in Congress to come to table to approve Trump's immigration plan, which includes the notorious "border wall." It was a cynical, cruel strategy, one that even previously lock-step Republicans began to distance themselves from. Terrified children all cry in the same language, after all. 


Claims that the separation of families was a policy enacted by previous Democratic administrations fell under the weight of scrutiny, as did Homeland Security Director Kirstjen Nielsen's claim that "only Congress" could end the policy. As criticism mounted, there was no effective strategy other than retreat. 


Wednesday, Trump issued an executive order to end the practice, one step ahead of separate bills from the Republican and Democratic congressmen to do the same. 


Trump wanted to take credit for stopping the cruelty, but for anyone paying attention, praising Trump for this move is like saying the man who helped put out a fire he himself started is a hero. 


But there are many who will embrace that fiction, especially among our politicians, who have issued statements admitting that children should not be taken away from their parents while re-affirming the prevailing "zero tolerance" policy on immigration. 


Zero tolerance sounds wonderful, on the surface. When folks break the law, they should be held accountable. Who could argue with that? 


But there's something larger, more cruel, less empathic and fundamentally un-American hidden in the phrase. 


What created the situation that led to this brief but terrorizing policy of separating children from their families? 


It's not zero tolerance as much as it is zero sense of proportion. 


Until Trump, those who arrived in the U.S. seeking asylum were treated through the civil court system. That meant they were summoned to court for hearings, but allowed to return to their homes during the process, which can be lengthy. Nobody got locked up. Certainly, families were not ripped apart. 


But now, what had been handled as a civil matter is treated as a criminal offense. 


It's like being hauled off to jail when you get stopped for speeding. That's zero tolerance. But nobody would suggest it is just. 


There are those even in our own community who are terrified by this change in how these cases are being handled. They fear the next time they show up for a court hearing, they may leave it in handcuffs. 


What can be safely assumed is that Republican hatred for immigrants has reached a pathological level. When they refer to previous policies as "catch and release," when they use "zero tolerance" as an excuse for cruelty, you realize that immigrants are considered less than human. You "catch and release" animals. To apply the same term to a human being is a sure sign of a real sickness. 


European Jews were referred to in subhuman terms in the 1930s, you will remember. When people are considered as animals, your conscience permits you to treat them like animals. 


So, while the policy of separating children from their parents appears to be ending, there is little doubt that some other policy built on cruel cynicism will emerge to take its place, policies that will be embraced by those whose attitudes are built on fear and hatred rather than hope and compassion. 


When a Border Wall is more symbolic of our nation's attitude toward immigrants than the Statue of Liberty, America has lost its sense of empathy, its confidence, its optimism and its fundamental decency. 


That is what the Republican Party has become. 


But is it what America has become? 


Each time Americans go to the polls, we'll learn the answer to that question.


Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]


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