EDITORIAL: Images of suffering children reflect new American reality

They’re sounds and images that could melt the coldest of hearts. But the heart-wrenching scenes playing out along the southern U.S. border are not enough to cut through the xenophobic zeal that now passes itself off as American immigration policy.

Recordings surfaced this week of sobbing toddlers crying out for their mama and papa from where they were being detained in make-shift cages set up in former department stores and other centres along the Mexican border. The recordings, along with photographs of crying youngsters, prompted many opponents of the new policy to protest “This is not who we are,” despite the growing evidence to the contrary.

The Trump administration has fully embraced the family separation policy, although its reasons for doing so continue to evolve in search of a more palatable option.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was among the first to speak out in favour of the policy that has stripped an estimated 2,000 children away from their parents. Sessions cited Romans 13 in the Bible, calling on Americans “ to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”

But the attempt to lay the blame for what many experts are calling state-sponsored child abuse at the feet of God didn’t sit well with the public, prompting condemnation from religious leaders across all denominations.

It then fell upon Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to sing the praises of the new Trump administration policy. “We will not apologize for the job we do … that the American people expect us to do,” she said.

When that failed to drum up support, President Trump himself fell back on his old standby of blaming his political opponents for the unpopular aspects of his own policies. The president signed an executive order Wednesday, calling for an end to the separation of children from their parents. That policy shift won’t end the imprisonment of children, however, just keep them detained alongside their parents.

But the images of these children won’t easily escape the consciousness of a world shocked by the U.S. actions. And the damage inflicted on those children will be a permanent stain on a government willing to use innocent youngsters as pawns in a political game.

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