They say a picture is worth a thousand words.
Well, every picture of a child separated from his or her mother at the border comes with the words, a thousand times over, “Courtesy of the Trump administration.”
As the House of Representatives takes up multiple immigration bills this week, against the backdrop of the Trump Administration’s cruel and mean-spirited zero tolerance policy, we’ll find out whether the center still holds in American politics. Specifically, we’ll learn whether a common-sense bill that balances the fate of Dreamers, border security, and family separation is still viable in the Trump era.
And we’ll learn whether the GOP still has a chance to hold onto the House.
By governing solely with his base in mind, President Trump has placed Congressional Republicans in a precarious situation.
The Cook Political Report points to 30 Republican House seats as the most competitive, where either party has a chance of winning. Many of these seats are held in Romney-Clinton districts — swing, suburban communities that are more affluent and more educated, and which voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. These are the voters that the GOP runs the greatest risk of alienating as harrowing images of children being separated from their parents continue to surface.
But it won’t just be swing suburban voters watching how the House votes this week. Over the past two weeks, Christian evangelist Franklin Graham called the practice of separating families “disgraceful,” the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution calling for the priority of family unity, and former First Lady Laura Bush said in an Op-Ed family separation “is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”
Despite a strong economy and relatively high marks on foreign policy, the House is in play. And it’s in play precisely because of how President Trump is handling immigration.
Sensing the politics shifting against it (to say nothing of the morality), the Administration went on the offense. It dispatched Attorney General Sessions to deliver a speech that included the biblical line, “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.”
It wasn’t prudent.
As the New York Times pointed out, it was 19th century pro-slavery Southerners who often cited the same verse to defend the Fugitive Slave Act, which “required the seizure and return of runaway slaves.”
What makes separating kids from parents so morally bankrupt is that it’s so ineffective on the substance: separating children from their parents does not work as a deterrent. All it does is hurt kids, and violate the basic tenants of America’s values.
Instead, we ought to be exploring alternatives to detention, addressing the root cause of the challenges in Central America, and putting in place effective border policy that includes new infrastructure and personnel at ports of entry, along with additional training and resources for those protecting the border. And at the same time, we should be taking the moral high ground and showing that the U.S. is as much a nation of laws, as it is a nation of grace.
Voters understand this. A recent CBS News Poll found that 67% of Americans find family separation policy unacceptable. Among Republications, only 36% found it acceptable.
And the early June WSJ/NBC poll of registered voters found the president enjoyed a 44% approval rating. But buried in the results: 49% of respondents would be less likely to vote for a candidate who “supports Donald Trump’s policies on immigration and border security.” And that was before pictures of children crying for their parents coursed through the nation’s bloodstream.
Trump’s immigration policy is separating children from their parents and, as the House gets set to vote this week, it may just separate Republicans from their majorities in Congress.
Ali Noorani is the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, an organization based in Washington that advocates for the value of immigrants, and author of “There Goes the Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenge of American Immigration” (Prometheus Books). He is the host of the podcast “Only in America.” Follow him on Twitter @anoorani. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.