Immigration, which has roiled the body politic in the United States in recent weeks because of the Trump administration’s treatment of migrant children, only occasionally has been a top-line issue on the campaign trail during the initial months of the Democratic presidential contest.
That changed Thursday night, when 10 of the Democratic presidential candidates offered fervent expressions of outrage and revulsion over the treatment of minors at the border, some of whom have been detained for weeks at a time after being wrenched from the arms of their parents.
Moderator Jose Diaz-Balart, a television anchor for Telemundo and MSNBC, posed the question first to Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), about what she would do about the migrants who have thronged the U.S.border in recent months.
“Senator Harris, last month more than 130,000 migrants were apprehended at the southern border. Many of them are being detained, including small children in private detention centers in Florida and throughout our country. Most of the candidates on this stage say the conditions of these facilities are abhorrent,” Diaz-Balart asked at the debate held in Miami.
“On January 20th, 2021, if you are president, what specifically would you do with the thousands of people who try to reach the United States every day and want a better life through asylum?” he asked.
Harris, the daughter of a mother from India and father from Jamaica, and whose home state of California borders Mexico, responded that her first step would be to normalize the status of DACA recipients — young people in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — who arrived in this country as young children and who for the most part have never known any other home than the United States.
The DACA recipients were extended temporary protected residency under the Barack Obama administration, but have lived in a cruel and unpredictable limbo since Donald Trump became president in January 2017.
“I will immediately by executive action reinstate DACA status and DACA protection to those young people. I will further extend protection for deferral of deportation for their parents and for veterans who we have so many who are undocumented and have served our country and fought for our democracy,” Harris said.
“I will also immediately put in place a meaningful process for reviewing the cases for asylum and release children from cages and get rid of the private detention centers,” she said.
“A mother who pays a coyote to transport her child through the entire country of Mexico facing unknown peril to come here, why would that mother do that? I will tell you. Because she has decided for that child to remain where they are is worse.”
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said that, like Harris, he was appalled at the treatment of migrants during Trump’s presidency. Last week, news ricocheted around the world about horrific conditions endured by children who were suffering from flu, made to sleep on bare concrete floors, and even denied soap and toothpaste.
“Certainly the images we have seen this week compound the impact that the world is judging us by. If you had told me at any time in my life that this country would sanction federal agents to take children from the arms of their parents and put them in cages and put them up for adoption …In Colorado, we call that kidnapping,” he said.
The onetime businsessman and former Denver mayor added that he would treat the problem like the humanitarian crisis it has become.
“Make sure there are sufficient facilities in place so that women and children are not separated from families and children are with their families,” Hickenlooper said, adding that it is imperative to “make sure ultimately we provide not just shelter, but food, clothing, and access to medical care.”
The president found time from his travels convening with world leaders for the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan to ridicule Democrats’ immigration talking points, making light of one moment when they raised their hands to say they would provide health care to undocumented migrants.
All Democrats just raised their hands for giving millions of illegal aliens unlimited healthcare. How about taking care of American Citizens first!? That’s the end of that race!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 28, 2019
Spiritualist Marianne Williamson called U.S. treatment of migrants at the border nothing less than “state-sponsored crimes.”
“If you take a lot of children and put them in detainment inflicting trauma upon them, that’s child abuse. This is collective child abuse. Both of those things are a crime. If your government does it, that doesn’t make it less of a crime. These are state-sponsored crimes,” said Williamson, a book author and adviser to Oprah Winfrey.
“What President Trump has done is not only attack these children, not only demonize the immigrants, but attacking a basic principal of America’s moral core. We open our hearts to the stranger,” she declared.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said that in many ways, the victims of the inhumane treatment of migrants are Americans themselves.
“One of the worst things about President Trump, what he has done to the country is torn apart the moral fabric of who we are,” she said.
“When we started separating children at the border from their parents, the fact that seven children have died in his custody, the fact that dozens of children have been separated from their parents and have no plan to reunite them, I would do a few things,” she said in impassioned remarks.
She vowed to “fight for comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship,” was well as “reform how we treat asylum seekers at the border. “