For a year we have been telling ourselves we are not the kind of country that separates children from parents and relatives and locks them up without proper adult supervision, adequate food or even soap and toothbrushes.
Apparently, we are that kind of country.
Last year when we saw the children imprisoned behind cages, we were told the Trump White House and the Department of Justice policy was deliberately separating families to act as a deterrent to Latin Americans fleeing gang violence and poverty to try to seek legal asylum in the United States. It was not a deterrent; in fact, thousands more tried to come here.
The government was so ill-prepared that it had no adequate record-keeping to keep track of children and parents. Parents were deported; their children were deposited all over the country. The government purposefully slowed down the asylum process, leaving hundreds to stand in the hot sun for hours only to tell them to return later.
The courts intervened and told the administration to stop separating families.
Now, we find out that the administration kept on with its failed policy. After some human rights lawyers trying to find out what was going on were appalled by the dreadful conditions that children were kept in for weeks and weeks, they told the media.
The acting head of the Border Patrol left the job after just two months. Everybody in charge of immigration is "acting"; nobody in charge has been confirmed by Congress. Members of Congress who tried to see for themselves how the children were being treated were turned away.
After the chilling photograph surfaced of a drowned man in the Rio Grande with his drowned 2-year-daughter, Donald Trump expressed little compassion, angrily saying Democrats (who do not control the Senate or the White House) should pass tougher immigration laws and referring yet again to immigrants raped on their journey north.
(Apparently, rape was on his mind after yet another woman has come forward to accuse him of raping her in a department store fitting room years ago. Trump denied it, saying she wasn't his "type." He said he'd never met her although there is a photograph of them talking at a party. But even when it was revealed he paid a porn star and a Playboy bunny not to talk about the affairs they said they had with him, Trump's base of four out of 10 voters did not care. Republicans in Congress shrugged their shoulders.)
But nobody should be shrugging at the undeniable news that children taken by this government are sleeping on concrete floors, warehoused without access to showers in buildings with no windows, wearing filthy clothes and treated like inmates of puppy mills. Eight-year-olds are taking care of infants. According to the lawyers, it's smelly and hot in the day and cold at night.
Trump's gone off to Japan talking about how the rest of the world has been "taking advantage" of us. He proudly talks about how much money his tariffs are making, not even realizing that tariffs are paid by us, the American consumer, for everything from food to cars. It's basically a tax hike.
Meanwhile, we are left at home worrying about the nameless children and confronted — yet again — by their plight and the national shame that this president has forced on us.
Too many have died in recent years trying to come into this country. Faster deportation, separating families and harsher penalties are not the answer. A few years ago the Senate passed a comprehensive new immigration law with a bipartisan vote but the GOP-led House would not even take it up. They are afraid of voters who are afraid that if others get a chance to make a better life, their own opportunities will grow more limited.
Write your senator and representative, Call the White House. Show up at town halls. Create a tidal wave of revulsion at what is going on along our border. Demand an end to this horrible inhumanity. If enough of us make ourselves heard, we will make a difference.
Meanwhile, Trump is still saying he is planning pre-dawn raids on undocumented immigrants who have been here for years to round them up and deport them. As if they are not frightened enough.
(Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.)