After facing weeks of pressure from Republicans and Democrats, the Biden administration has finally released photos and videos from inside two Texas detention centers where unaccompanied children are being held.
An ABC News report of the government-sanctioned video describes the conditions as “crowded but orderly,” and boasts of shelves “stocked with items including linens, diapers, food, water and hand sanitizer.” According to that report, a record number of 5,000 unaccompanied children are in Border Patrol custody, and an additional 10,500 are in the care of Health and Human Services.
That contradicts the assessment by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.) of photos he’d obtained, which revealed what he called “terrible conditions for the children.” But really, there’s no point in parsing — no matter how orderly or well-stocked, children do not belong in facilities meant for criminals. Nor do they belong separated from their parents or guardians.
How we got here — again — is complicated, but irrelevant if you’re one of these kids stuck in country-less, parent-less limbo, a political football for both parties. Partisans would prefer to make who’s to blame the topic of conversation, as pointing fingers has taken the place of legislating when it comes to all kinds of hot-button issues, including immigration. No administration in modern history has been able to fix a system both sides agree is broken, perhaps because it’s simply more politically profitable to leave it that way.
After another administration — Trump’s — failed to reach any kind of long-term, humane and secure immigration policy agreement, the Biden administration is falling into a similar pattern as previous ones.
Officials are engaging in semantic arguments. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, as well as White House press secretary Jen Psaki have inexplicably refused to label the crisis at the border a “crisis.”
And Biden officials, including Mayorkas, are pointing the fingers back at Trump. The director of the White House’s office of intergovernmental affairs, Julie Chávez Rodriguez, told CNN, “We knew we were inheriting an absolute mess from the previous administration.”
Painfully, some Biden officials are whitewashing the seriousness of the problem. One official told CNN, “Everyone wants to be like ‘crisis, crisis, crisis, crisis’ — but it’s like, you know what, actually things are going really well.”
Finally, Biden’s immigration stance helped invite a problem he clearly wasn’t prepared for. Even for the many of us who welcomed his more empathetic approach to migrants and asylum seekers, empathy is no substitute for readiness.
Biden is unfortunately falling into a trap so many before him have: setting policy based on what the last guy did. President Obama was often accused of defining his foreign policy worldview as simply “Not Bush.” On numerous issues, from immigration to healthcare, Trump ran on undoing Obama-era policies, without knowing how to replace them; and Biden seems to have rushed to undo some admittedly terrible Trump policies without new fixes in place.
But while empathy isn’t enough, it is hugely important.
For years, Trump stood by his anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, including his indefensible child separation policy, which intentionally ripped kids away from their parents at the border, and left hundreds orphaned and officials unable to locate their families.
It’s a policy that both lawyers and physicians say constituted torture, and yet, Trump readily defended it. He insisted that “when you prosecute the parents for coming in illegally — which should happen — you have to take the children away.” And he said in a 2020 debate, of the children he tore away from their parents, “They are so well taken care of. They’re in facilities that were so clean.”
No one believes Biden shares any common views with Trump when it comes to the way America should treat immigrants and asylum seekers. Trump explicitly wanted to punish families fleeing from untold atrocities in their home countries. Biden wants to rescue them.
But the comparisons and deflections do nothing to help these suffering children, themselves the victims of failed policies, exploitation and desperation.
As a mother, it is just as unimaginable and heartbreaking to see kids in cages under this administration as it was the last one, and the one before it. Those children don’t care about our politics. And they can’t wait for our parties to stop blaming each other. They need a president to finally help solve this problem.
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S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.