All four living former first ladies have now condemned President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy that has separated 2,000 children from their parents in six weeks’ time, calling the practice “horrific” and “traumatizing.”
The statements from Rosalynn Carter, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama join a chorus of bipartisan condemnation of the family separations on the US-Mexico border — an unusual step given that former presidents and their families usually don’t criticize the current administration.
Here’s what they said:
Rosalynn Carter: “Disgraceful and a shame to our country”
Rosalynn Carter, the wife of former President Jimmy Carter, called family separation “disgraceful and a shame to our country” in a statement to ABC News.
“When I was first lady, I worked to call attention to the plight of refugees fleeing Cambodia for Thailand, I visited Thailand and witnessed firsthand the trauma of parents and children separated by circumstance beyond their control,” Carter said.
Hillary Clinton: “A moral and humanitarian crisis”
Former first lady and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton used her time on the stage at the Women’s Forum of New York luncheon to denounce Trump’s “horrific” policy. She cited the images of children in cages and the Honduran woman who claims her child was taken from her while she was breastfeeding:
This is a moral and humanitarian crisis. Every one of us who’s ever been a parent or a grandparent, an aunt, a big sister, any one of us who’s ever held a child in our arms, every human being with a sense of compassion and decency, should be outraged.
Clinton rebutted Trump’s claims that separating families was legally required:
Separating families is not mandated by law at all. That is an outright lie. And it’s incumbent on all of us — journalists and citizens alike — to call it just that.
Clinton finished her impassioned speech with a jab at Attorney General Jeff Sessions and press secretary Sarah Sanders, who have called the matter of separating families a “biblical” duty:
Those who selectively use the Bible to justify this cruelty are ignoring a central tenet of Christianity. ... Jesus said, “Suffer the little children unto me”; he did not say, “Let the children suffer.”
Laura Bush: “It breaks my heart”
Former first lady Laura Bush, the wife of former President George W. Bush, addressed her concerns in a letter to the Washington Post published June 17. Bush made clear that she felt Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, enforced by Sessions, was wrong:
“I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel,” Bush explained. “It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”
Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the internment camps for U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent during World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history. We also know that this treatment inflicts trauma; those who have been interned have been twice as likely to suffer cardiovascular disease or die prematurely than those who were not interned.
Michelle Obama: “Truth transcends party”
Former first lady Michelle Obama tweeted an endorsement of Bush’s op-ed, saying “sometimes truth transcends party.”
Sometimes truth transcends party. https://t.co/TeFM7NmNzU— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) June 18, 2018
What about Melania Trump?
First lady Melania Trump — who rarely speaks out on policy issues — made a vague statement on family separations, putting the onus on both Republicans and Democrats to eradicate the practice in a statement from her spokesperson, Stephanie Grisham:
Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform. She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.
Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump, who has positioned herself as the voice of the administration on children and family issues, has been silent.