Reprinted with permission from Creators.
In early June, I traveled to “The Valley,” as the McAllen-Brownsville area of Texas is called, down where the Rio Grande empties into the Gulf of Mexico. This river, one of the longest in the U.S., forms the entire Texas-Mexico border, meandering south and east 1,250 miles from our far-west desert city of El Paso to the semi-tropical tip of my state. Its cartographic function aside, the narrow and shallow Rio Grande has historically been viewed by families in the region as more a connector than a divider, and it has long fostered a rich, cross-fertilized culture along its length, uniting generations of us Americanos with our Mexicano neighbors.
Though I had gone there to talk politics at a union conference, I wasn’t about to pass up the chance to wallow awhile in the rich Tex-Mex experience. So I took an extra half day to savor some fresh shrimp from the Gulf, quff a couple or three good Mexican cervezas, let my mind drift to the lazy tempo of palm trees swaying in the sea breeze and generally absorb the area’s unique spirit, character and centuries-old sense of place. It was an altogether pleasant experience.
Well, except that, just beyond the palms where I was floating in blissful reverie, a time bomb of sadistic immigration policy was ticking. Only a couple of days later, the border would explode in a media conflagration that would char Washington and burn across America as the public learned that our tempestuous, tweety-bird president had decided The Valley would be ground zero for his political mugging of border-crossing families. Suddenly (and stupidly) he and his agents mounted a full-scale terrorist attack on thousands of migrant children — 10-year-olds, 4-year-olds, toddlers and even babies!
Many of these tykes have trekked hundreds of miles with parents and other adults along the dangerous route to El Norte. Others have migrated alone in an urgent attempt to escape rampaging gang violence and life-crushing poverty stalking them in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and parts of Mexico. Hoping for humanitarian refuge in the Land of the Free, these vulnerable people are instead being met at the Rio Grande by Trump’s newly fabricated “zero tolerance” policy against Latinx asylum seekers. His Customs and Border Protection agents have been brusquely separating distraught children from their parents — mostly moms — whom they haul to a McAllen detention jail run by ICE (the ruthlessly cold Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency). Some of the terrorized children have been taken 60 miles away to Brownsville to be incarcerated in chain-link cages inside a windowless, 77,000-square-foot warehouse (a converted Walmart Supercenter) run by a private corporation under contract to Trump’s Refugee Resettlement. Other “alien children” have ended up in facilities as far away as New York City.
There’s no need for me to chronicle each step in this Trump-run-amuck saga, for nearly everyone has seen shocking videos and photos of his troops seizing and ripping apart families. Again, and again, we’ve heard recordings of bewildered, anguished and sobbing children and absorbed weeks of 24/7 coverage and commentary about this flagrantly immoral assertion of Trumpist autocracy. And we’ve heard the bizarre twists, turns and tweets of Trump, Sessions, Spence, Kelly, Huckabee-Sanders, Nielson, et al. trying to rationalize their intentionally cruel policy. The deeper issue of what their relentless pursuit of zero tolerance says is not just about the implementers of this tortuous policy — it’s also about all of us.
Although deportation injustices have long been a blot on our country’s “Give me your tired, your poor” pretensions, Trump has turned immigration policy into a despotic nightmare of presumed guilt, mass incarceration and what amount to death-sentence deportations. The policy of “zero tolerance” violates the rights of immigrants, while undermining our own rights and, in the process, shriveling the basic value of fairness that binds democratic societies together, as well as our own.
Populist author, public speaker, and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes The Hightower Lowdown, a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.