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Jeff Danziger cartoon

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat who has been particularly vocal about the Trump administration's cruel, if not evil, policy of separating young children from their asylum-seeking parents, was reluctantly allowed to visit an immigrant detention center the other day.

After seeing the conditions and how children were kept apart from their mothers and fathers, he asked U.S. immigration workers if they were concerned about the impact family separation could have on children, some of whom are removed to facilities hundreds of miles away.

"We simply follow the orders from above," he was told.

When I read that line last week in a Michelle Goldberg column in The New York Times, I couldn't help but think back to that awful time in history when German soldiers and officials excused their atrocities by explaining they were only following orders.

Today, as the rest of us celebrate Father's Day, isn't a good day for hundreds of illegal immigrant dads, many of whom fled to the U.S. in an attempt to escape murderous gangs and persecution in their home countries. Their kids are no longer with them and many have no idea where they are.

We're reading some of the awful stories now. Goldberg recounted an earlier Times' story that described a 5-year-old boy from Honduras who had been separated from his father and cried himself to sleep at night with a stick-figure drawing of his family under his pillow.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post ran a story about a 39-year-old illegal immigrant from Honduras who killed himself in his cell after his 3-year-old was taken from his arms.

"This is as bad as I've ever seen in 25 years of doing this work," Goldberg quoted the deputy director of the ACLU's Immigrants Rights Project. "The little kids are literally being terrorized."

Columnist Nicholas Kristof, noting that we as a nation have crossed so many ugly lines lately, says he's haunted by the Trump administration's tactic of seizing children from desperate refugees at the border.

A Salvadoran woman described how her 4- and 10-year-old sons were taken from her and she was given but five minutes to say goodbye.

"Is this really who we are?" Kristof asked. "As a parent, as the son of a refugee myself, I find that in this case Trump's policy has veered from merely abhorrent to truly evil."

Yet Trump's secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, defends the policy that has the blessing of Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It's nothing more than what we do every day in every part of the United States when an adult in a family commits a crime.

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"If you as a parent break into a house, you will be incarcerated by police and thereby separated from your family," she told a congressional committee, attempting to equate situations where children may lose a miscreant parent to jail, but they still can live in their homes, not in some strange land, and, even more importantly, know where everyone is.

The foster family who took in the 5-year-old Honduran boy says not a day has gone by when the boy has failed to ask in Spanish, "When will I see my papa?"

According to the Times, they tell him the truth. They do not know. No one knows.

As I asked in a column weeks ago, what will future generations say of us?

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

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