Out of all of DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s denials during her appearance before the House Homeland Security Committee, the most obvious was her statement that the places where terrified migrant children were held after crossing the border and being separated from their parents “are not cages.” It was, without a doubt, the coldest and cruelest of her responses.
If there is one image that symbolizes and summarizes, for all time, the posture of this government on the issue of immigration in the 21st century, it is precisely that of the hundreds of migrant children enclosed in cages—those impersonal metal structures who images ricocheted across the country and the world— alone and far from their parents, without knowing what destiny awaits them.
And they only came, as we all know, to request asylum, fleeing violence in their native countries.
Who doesn’t remember, around the middle of last year, the voice of the little girl Alison Jimena Valencia Madrid, who at the age of six was crying for her aunt after being separated from her mother and locked up in a CBP detention center. This was around the same time that the country found out that the government had separated some 2,000 children from their parents as an explicit part of its “zero tolerance” policy, without knowing, with any sort of certainty, where they all were.
That chapter was, of course, an historic turning point in the social contract with the migrant of color who, both physically and symbolically, is being isolated in order to better “punish” his desire to search for a better future for his family, legally requesting asylum in the United States, just as the immigration law stipulates.
The goal of this policy was to use fear to discourage other migrants from daring to do the same.
But then there was no way that the government could continue covering up a reality that could scarcely be believed, in light of the images of migrant children, the immense majority from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, enclosed in said cages, a reality that from one minute to the next altered their lives, and possibly left them with permanent psychological scars —and far from their parents’ arms.
That is precisely the point of the questioning. While Nielsen did verbal cartwheels to try to find a series of words that made logical sense and could be substituted for the term “cages,” she should have realized that the accumulated suffering engendered by the separation of children from their families was where the questions were really pointing.
Because the children could have been housed in a room with all the necessary services, or put up in a five-star hotel, or even held in a “golden cage,” but the result would have been the same: the separation of families, with the worst damage inflicted upon the young ones. And it continues today.
Beyond justifying the “zero tolerance” policy, having insisted that there is an emergency along the border and that it’s necessary to construct a wall —the central immigration point of this White House, repeated ad nauseam in different official ways— the verbal juggling that Secretary Nielsen engaged in to defend not the country and its safety, but her boss and his orders, once again reflected the lack of professionalism of a functionary who should respect herself and take into consideration the fact that this blew up in her face —and not simply act as an employee of Trump.
No one knows if Nielsen will last in her current job much longer. In fact, her appearance could be interpreted as a sort of “trial by fire,” to see if she should remain at the head of DHS or not. That will depend upon the level of immorality on migration to which the presidency that she serves has fallen, which seems more and more enclosed in its own cage with each passing day. Still, defending the indefensible usually ends up with disastrous consequences to the personal and professional life of whoever does it on behalf of someone else, thinking that this way they can win points instead of being dismissed like any other “Apprentice.”
Donald Trump’s ex-lawyer, Michael Cohen, already explained and warned us about this, abundantly, with tears and soon with prison —that other type of “cage” in which he will remain, as he should, separated from his family.