Who Built the Cages, Joe?

Young boys sleep in a holding cell at the Nogales Placement Center on June 18, 2014. 
Associated Press/Ross D. Franklin

There’s been a lot of confusion about the chain link confinement areas in the detention facilities, commonly referred to as “cages” by nearly everyone, that immigrant children are being held in at the border. Most of this information is coming from the Trump administration. The most common outcry is that the cages were built by the Obama administration, as if that somehow excuses the way the Trump administration has used them

Here’s the thing about those “cages.”

Yes, the “cages” in the McAllen detention facility were built during the Obama administration. Without writing the equivalent of a documentary on immigration law, the basic purpose was to separate immigrants by age and gender while the government was trying to move those children out of those shelters as fast as humanly possible and either get them into shelters or connect them with their parents, most of whom were already in the United States.

“Under the law, once they’re apprehended by the border patrol, within 72 hours we have to transfer unaccompanied children to HHS. And HHS then puts them into shelter and they find placement for them somewhere in the United States.”

Obama Administration Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson

This has not stopped Donald Trump from falsely stating many times that the act of separating children from their parents has been going on for years and that he had inherited this policy from the Obama Administration. However, it wasn’t until in 2018 that the Trump administration initiated its “zero tolerance” policy of separating immigrant parents from their children. This policy endured immense bi-partisan unpopularity.

“This policy is new, cruel, and unprecedented. It was not an Obama policy. It was not a Bush policy. It was not a Clinton policy. That is a fact. And that is what all of us — Democrats and Republicans — should want changed as soon as humanly possible.”

Former President Barack Obama’s Speechwriter Jon Favreau

But instead of acknowledging a gross error in judgment, apologizing, and taking steps to rectify the situation, the Trump administration decided to point the blame at the Obama administration based solely on the fact the the facilities were built during his administration.

Most of the right followed suit by posting pictures of kids in cages dated as far back as 2014, without the context needed, which is that the children in those cages were there on a 72-hour hold awaiting transfer, and the only reason why they were put in there was due a huge spike in unaccompanied children who were escaping violence in Central American countries. Unaccompanied children…

“But during that 72-hour period, when you have something that is a multiple, like four times, of what you’re accustomed to in the existing infrastructure, you’ve got to find places quickly to put kids. You can’t just dump 7-year-old kids on the streets of McAllen or El Paso.”

Obama Administration Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson

“In 2014, we saw an enormous spike compared to what usually happens every year, in the number of kids crossing alone into the United States, and we didn’t have enough shelter facilities, because we had a huge increase, so kids ended up piling up in Border Patrol lock-ups, which are no places for children. What the Obama administration did, which is what the law requires, is to find shelter facilities for those kids, which were put together by the Department of Health and Human Services. So the goal was to get kids out of the Border Patrol, into proper care by HHS, and then HHS is supposed to release them to the least restrictive setting, and in more than 80% of the cases, that was their parents who were already in the United States.”

Obama Administration White House Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz

The unaccompanied children in 2014 were older children and knew what to expect when they arrived at the border and were taken to the holding facilities. By contrast, the children who were separated from their parents under the Trump “zero-tolerance” policy were not only much younger, but were not prepared to be taken from their families.

Yet another false equivalency

The reasoning that because the Obama administration built the detention facilites they are responsible for how the Trump administration chose to use them is ridiculous. No other way to state it. It makes about as much sense as blaming Toyota for supporting terrorism because the favored vehicles of terrorists seem to be the Hilux. Or blaming a construction company for a structure that was built before the building was repurposed for genocide or some other horrible act against society.

Think about this for a minute. Even if you are 100% behind President Trump and loathe the Democratic Party, I hope you understand this. The Trump administration dropped the ball on this one. Children died while being incarcerated in the care of the US Government under the leadership of Donald Trump. As of the writing of this article, in spite of the fact that the policy was amended and all children were ordered to be reunited with their parents, there are still nearly 600 children that cannot be because the US Government cannot find their parents.

Who built the cages, Joe? That question is irrelevant. The real question that needs to be asked should be directed at Donald Trump:

“Who decided to separate these kids from their families and keep them interred in deplorable and unsanitary conditions for horrifically extended time periods without hope of ever seeing their parents again, Donald?”

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