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Editorial cartoon  5/2/18

Do you ever wonder what historians are going to write about us a hundred years from now?

The way things are going, it's probably not going to be pretty.

It's been bad enough that many of the leaders of "the land of the free" have spent the last several years devising ways to prevent certain folks from exercising their right to vote and turning a blind eye to the scientific fact that the planet is disastrously warming and starting a few unnecessary wars that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Not to mention that we decided to give our rich big tax breaks and take away food stamps and other benefits for the poor and never could find a way to help low-income families afford child care.

All of this is shameful enough, but there's something more that I can't seem to shake out of my head — the way our government is treating families who are fleeing violence in their own countries and asking for asylum here.

Only a few days ago The New York Times reported that at least 700 children have been separated from their families as they await word whether immigration authorities will grant them refuge in the U.S.

The Department of Homeland Security, which is acting more and more like a jack-booted force of storm troopers, continues to claim that it doesn't have a policy of separating women and children, but it continues to do so anyway, according to numerous organizations who work with the refugees. It's believed that the program has the approval of Donald Trump himself.

The Trump administration, after all, has stated in the past that it was considering taking children from their parents as a way to deter migrants from coming to the United States. When members of Congress have asked for data on what has been happening to the refugees, Homeland Security officials have refused to provide it, while claiming that the number of separations has been relatively low.

The Times, however, was able to access the data itself and found that more than 700 children have been taken away, including more than 100 under the age of 4. The report was then reluctantly confirmed by DHS, admitting that the number of separated families is "approximately 700."

But DHS contends it's only done to "protect the best interests of the minor children" crossing the borders "if we think the child is otherwise in danger." Plus, they suspect that some asylum-seekers are only pretending to be with children so they have a better chance of being granted asylum.

So the parents are put in one shelter and the children in another, sometimes many miles away from each other.

Laila Lalami of the Nation magazine noted in a column last month that a Congolese woman who fled the violence in her home country with her 7-year-old daughter and then traveled through Mexico to arrive in the U.S. was detained in San Diego and the child was taken to a facility in Chicago, some 2,000 miles away. The child was held there for four months, including over the Christmas holidays.

"The idea of punishing parents who are trying to save their children's lives, and punishing children for being brought to safety by their parents by separating them, is fundamentally cruel and un-American," a director at the Women's Refugee Commission told The New York Times.

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Another case involved an asylum-seeker who crossed the border with her 18-month-old child and then was immediately separated from the infant.

"The agents ordered her to place her son in the back seat of a government vehicle," a refugee worker said the woman testified. "They both cried as the boy was driven away and she hasn't seen him since."

Just one more example of how history will judge us.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel. 

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