Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security adopted a new policy to start criminal prosecutions of parents crossing the border illegally, and to place their children in protective custody. It wasn’t enough to deport undocumented people. Now the Trump administration would actively break up their families.
This is not just an inhumane policy that violates any meaning of the words “family values.” It’s also recklessly incompetent about children’s safety, since the federal government has lost track of almost 1,500 of children in its supposed custody. For the American Civil Liberties Union, it’s unconstitutional because it denies migrant families due process.
How did we get to the point where the supposed party of family values believes the best way to stop undocumented migration is to break up families?
The answer starts with the demonization of such migrants: they aren’t moms and dads, but criminals. And we all know what kind of criminals Donald Trump has in mind when he talks about undocumented people: the tiny sliver who form part of the brutal MS-13 gang.
For Trump, there is a vast army of MS-13 murderers out there, a force that rivals our own military in size. Otherwise it’s hard to understand the numbers he cited at the top of his infamous discussion about California’s so-called sanctuary laws earlier this month.
Trump has demonized migrants as violent criminals from the start of his presidential campaign. We’ve come to expect him to use these neo-Nazi tactics, to re-tweet actual neo-Nazis and to express his sympathies for neo-Nazis screaming for racial purity.
But it hasn’t yet hardened us to the hollow hypocrisy of those claiming to support family friendly policies within Trump’s own family.
Chief among those is his daughter Ivanka, who styles herself on Twitter as a “wife, mother, sister, daughter” ahead of her job as a presidential adviser. Were it not for her father’s policies and repeated comments, it might be admirable that she has been an advocate for working mothers and paid family leave. We might just appreciate the cuteness of the family photo of her snuggling up to her young son.
Instead, she looks like she is either out of touch with her father’s policies, or out of the loop. There’s little point in advocating for families while your own administration is breaking them up intentionally as some kind of deterrent to immigration. Never mind that none of Ivanka’s policy proposals have made it into reality; she works inside an executive branch that is actively working against what she says she stands for.
Ivanka may be a lot of things, but thoughtless is not one of them. Ivanka is no ingenue, who has reluctantly been thrust into public life and is now struggling to keep her personal life separate from the political. She grew up surrounded by paparazzi; she is nothing if not media-savvy. What’s more, despite memorably saying she tries “to stay out of politics”, she has enthusiastically thrown herself into her unelected role in the White House and is an integral part of the administration. Indeed, both she and her husband Jared Kushner received full security clearance earlier this month. She is not passively complicit in the Trump administration’s policies; she is an active architect.
So, when Ivanka tweeted that photo on Sunday, she knew exactly what she was doing, which was playing to Trump’s specific base; reminding them that it’s white families like hers – like theirs – who are important, not the brown families who Trump is breaking up; using the image of herself as a loving mother to provide a human face to Trump’s inhumane administration.
Ivanka is an important complement to Trump’s messaging. He does all the crass dehumanization of immigrants, lumping them together with the gang MS-13 and calling them dangerous “animals” the US needs to protect itself from; she provides the aspirational imagery of the US that needs protecting.
In the meantime, her father naturally blames everyone but himself. According to the president, his immigration policies are dictated to him by the all-powerful Democrats who currently control no part of the federal government.
“Put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there parents once they cross the Border into the U.S.,” he tweeted on Saturday, ignoring good sense as well as good spelling. He concluded the nonsensical tweet with an all-caps scream: “DEMOCRATS ARE PROTECTING MS-13 THUGS.”
It’s not clear what planet Trump is living on, but it is a terrifyingly confusing one. Democrats are both punishing undocumented families and protecting them. Trump is but a hapless and impotent observer of this nightmare he presides over. For such a good family man, this is something of a stormy scenario. Because when it comes to Trump’s compassion for families, there’s just no there, there.