Does Donald Trump hate immigrant children?
That's not hyperbole. Is there any other way to interpret his administration's efforts to wreck these children's lives starting at the moment of conception?
Let's begin with the newly enacted public charge rule, which -- if pending lawsuits don't prevail -- will penalize legal immigrants who accessed federal benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps or housing assistance by making them ineligible for green cards and eventual citizenship. This means that women pregnant with soon-to-be U.S. citizens will have to choose between getting help for themselves or going without for eventual citizenship, as many are already reportedly doing.
And the new policy's ramifications could spread to non-immigrant children who attend schools with large Latino or other immigrant populations. The federal government uses the number of children who qualify for free and reduced-price meals to distribute funds earmarked for low-income students. The net result of poorer immigrant families waiving benefits will be that schools with the same number of low-income kids will have fewer funds with which to educate them.
But wait! The administration has an idea to cut those numbers down, too.
Right now, it is federal law that all children, regardless of immigration status, are entitled to a free and appropriate public education. Trump whisperer and senior adviser Stephen Miller wants to end that, despite repeated failed attempts to overturn Plyler v. Doe, the Supreme Court case that guarantees that undocumented children can go to public school. Keeping out undocumented kids has been on the nativist wish list for years and will certainly rear its ugly head again.
Just last week, Trump reintroduced the idea to end birthright citizenship so that children born to immigrants or refugees on U.S. soil would no longer automatically be U.S. citizens. Conveniently, that would resolve the key criticism of the public charge rule, which is that it harms U.S. citizen children on the basis of their parents' legal or potential citizenship status.
The Trump administration also just announced that it will publish a new regulation invalidating the 1997 Flores Settlement agreement, which codified the medical fact that keeping children in detention facilities for extended periods of time is physically and emotionally harmful.
As a result, children who enter the country with their families and are put into detention will be eligible to be held in facilities indefinitely instead of the current limit of 20 days.
And we know what those detention facilities have looked like under Trump. Recently, a federal appeals court in California had to clarify to the administration that "safe and sanitary conditions" for minors have to include edible food, clean water for drinking and bathing, basic hygiene items like soap and toothbrushes, and sleep. Yes, uninterrupted blocks of sleep in adequate sleeping accommodations.
I know what some of you are thinking: "But they're 'illegal'!"
First of all: So what? Kids are kids. Have a heart, for Pete's sake.
Second, there have been several documented cases of U.S.-born children having been accidentally swept up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and then detained before getting sufficient legal assistance to be freed. Even one instance of this outrage is too many.
Worse than that, there are U.S.-born citizens who end up in foster care when their undocumented family members are deported or put into detention. An estimated 5,000 suffered this fate way back in 2011, before the uptick in detentions and deportations, according to the American Immigration Council.
Third, not all Latinos are first- or second-generation immigrants, much less undocumented ones. But most Latino children have some tie to immigrant caregivers. Hispanic children make up nearly one-fourth of students in public schools.
How do you think stressed-out immigrant children, worried about their family's hunger or homelessness or immigration status, perform in school? How do you imagine these problems impact learning, or collaboration and play at school with classmates who don't have the same worries?
What do you imagine that does for a classroom, a lunchroom, a playground, a school?
How about when an ICE raid rocks a community?
What does that mean for the children, the grandchildren, nephews, nieces, family friends?
For some of those students, it means acting out in class, disruptions, lost teaching time (and frazzled teachers). It means the fraying of communities at the epicenter of where we create civic-minded citizens. It means that children -- and not just those who have immigration-related fears -- feel unsafe.
If that isn't a country that, by presidential proxy, has contempt for children, I don't know what is.