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Bianey Reyes and others protest the separation of children from their parents in front of the El Paso Processing Center, an immigration detention facility, at the Mexican border on June 19. | Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

EDITORIAL: The moral failing in tearing up families lies with Trump alone

SHARE EDITORIAL: The moral failing in tearing up families lies with Trump alone
SHARE EDITORIAL: The moral failing in tearing up families lies with Trump alone

Donald Trump could end this evil with a phone call.

Thousands of children have been taken from their migrant parents at the Mexican border, forced to sleep on mats in cages, and the president says there’s nothing he can do about it — his administration is required to follow the law.

That may be the single most false and immoral lie he has ever told.

And this from a man who lies every day.

EDITORIAL

Trump is a master of the big lie, the whopper told so often that even people who are not stupid begin to believe it. Even now, polls show, half of all Republican voters think Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

But this latest Trump lie cannot be allowed to gain traction. Not when it is being used to justify, in the words of former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, “state-sponsored child abuse.”

To be as clear as possible, then: There is no law that requires that undocumented immigrant children be taken from their parents. There is only Trump’s decision to do so. Trump could end this inhumane policy instantly by, as South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham says, calling the Department of Homeland Security and saying “stop it.”

The same federal laws and court decisions that Trump claims tie his hands were in effect when Barack Obama was president — nothing has changed — yet the Obama administration did not tear apart families.

Trump can’t off-load the blame on Democrats or anybody else. The moral failing is his alone.

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As 75 former U.S. attorneys, both Republicans and Democrats, wrote in a letter to Trump on Monday: “The law does not require the systematic separation of families under these circumstances.” The separations are “taking place solely at your direction, and the unfolding tragedy falls squarely on your shoulders.”

There is a law against “improper entry” at the border, as well as a consent decree that limits to 20 days how long a child may be held in immigrant detention. When, as a result of this decree, a judge in 2016 ruled that the Obama administration no longer could detain children with their parents, the administration decided simply to release these families while their cases were being processed. The adults sometimes were monitored with ankle bracelets.

What the Obama administration did not do — and what no law requires any president to do — was take children from their parents so that the adults could be detained.

A common Trump tactic when caught in a lie is to compound the lie. He ups the ante. He did it again on Monday by warning that the families he was splitting up could include “murderers and thieves and so much else.”

Let’s dispel with that canard, too. In the vast majority of cases on the Mexican border where children are being separated from their families, there is not an iota of evidence that the adults are guilty of any crime other than crossing the border illegally, a misdemeanor.

The Trump administration, that is to say, is not tearing children from the arms of mothers to keep our nation safe, but to scare other refugees from making the same desperate trek toward safety and a better life. And by beating up on kids, Trump hopes to exact concessions from congressional Democrats on other immigration issues, such as budgeting billions of dollars more for his border wall.

Trump is punishing children to get his way with adults.

Apart from the moral turpitude of it all, the Trump administration is making us less safe while wasting the resources of the Department of Homeland Security.

“It is a simple matter of fact,” write the 75 former U.S. attorneys, “that the time a department attorney spends prosecuting misdemeanor illegal entry cases, may be time he or she does not spend investigating more significant crimes.”

But let’s not go too far down the road of considering the practical and political arguments against Trump’s cruel treatment of innocent children. Yes, it’s a waste of money. Yes, it may be making us less safe, not more.

And yes, the American people by and large have a greater sense of decency than their president. Just 27 percent of Americans, according to a new poll, agree that it is “appropriate to separate undocumented immigrant parents from their children when they cross the border in order to discourage others from crossing the border illegally.”

But all that really matters is this: Trump’s decision to make thousands of children suffer is a shame on our nation, and he can end the travesty anytime he wants.

When he says he can’t, he’s lying.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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