Laura Bush is speaking out against the Trump administration’s family separation policy for asylum seekers and immigrants crossing the United States border illegally. The former first lady called the practice “cruel” and immoral” in an op-ed in the Washington Post on Sunday evening. “It breaks my heart,” she wrote.
The Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy of separating children from their parents as they attempt to enter the US has sparked outrage across the country. Over a six-week period this spring, nearly 2,000 kids were taken from their migrant parents at the border, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Bush cited the static in the Post op-ed, noting that more than 100 of those children are under the age of 4.
“I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel,” she wrote in the Post. ‘It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”
Bush, a mother and grandmother, continued that the 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,” an apparent reference to a former Walmart store in Texas where children are being housed and the Trump administration’s selection of a border-crossing point near El Paso as the site for a temporary shelter for immigrant children. She wrote that the images coming out of such facilities are “eerily reminiscent” of Japanese-American internment camps during World War II, “now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in US history.”
“We also know that this treatment inflicts trauma; interned Japanese have been two times as likely to suffer cardiovascular disease or die prematurely than those who were not interned,” Bush wrote.
Last week, CNN reported that an undocumented migrant from Honduras had her daughter taken from her while she was breastfeeding her. Taking babies from their mothers during breastfeeding is physically and emotionally painful for mothers and risky for the health of babies and mothers.
“Americans pride ourselves on being a moral nation, on being the nation that sends humanitarian relief to places devastated by natural disasters or famine or war. We pride ourselves on believing that people should be seen for the content of their character, not the color of their skin. We pride ourselves on acceptance,” Bush wrote. “If we are truly that country, then it is our obligation to reunite these detained children with their parents — and to stop separating parents and children in the first place.”
Bush also invoked her mother-in-law’s conduct during the AIDS crisis
While children taken by the US government are provided many of the basics — shelter, a place to sleep, toys, diapers, food — they’re not being given a lot of physical attention. People who work at shelters where migrant children are being housed have reportedly been told not to pick them up, touch them, or comfort them.
Bush, in the Post op-ed, expressed angst at the policy. “Imagine not being able to pick up a child who is not yet out of diapers,” she wrote.
She included an anecdote about another former first lady, her mother-in-law, Barbara Bush, who died in April at the age of 92, and her actions during the HIV/AIDs crisis in the 1990s:
Twenty-nine years ago, my mother-in-law, Barbara Bush, visited Grandma’s House, a home for children with HIV/AIDS in Washington. Back then, at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, the disease was a death sentence, and most babies born with it were considered “untouchables.” During her visit, Barbara — who was the first lady at the time — picked up a fussy, dying baby named Donovan and snuggled him against her shoulder to soothe him. My mother-in-law never viewed her embrace of that fragile child as courageous. She simply saw it as the right thing to do in a world that can be arbitrary, unkind and even cruel. She, who after the death of her 3-year-old daughter knew what it was to lose a child, believed that every child is deserving of human kindness, compassion and love.
Laura Bush, as first lady, focused much of her platform on children — specifically, education and reading. It’s not so dissimilar to the platform being pursued by another first lady — Melania Trump, whose “Be Best” campaign is dedicated to children.
Trump on Sunday offered what could be perceived as a soft criticism of her husband’s policy. Her spokesperson said the first lady “hates to see” children separated from their families and hopes “both sides” can come together for a solution — echoing her husband’s false claim that Democrats are responsible for his administration’s family separation policies.
Bush in her op-ed called for a better solution. “In 2018, can we not as a nation find a kinder, more compassionate and more moral answer to the current crisis?” she wrote. “I, for one, believe we can.”