The Belly of the Beast

Steven J. Harper, Esq.


On Nov. 4, 1979, a group of Iranian students stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took 90 hostages — including 66 Americans. Four days later, ABC News launched “America Held Hostage: The Iran Crisis” — a breaking news program competing with the first half-hour of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson on NBC and The CBS Late Movie. The program also launched host Ted Koppel’s career to a new level. As the crisis continued, the program opened with a running total of the passing days:

“America held hostage: Day —”

On Day 444, the crisis ended with the release of the last American hostages shortly after President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 1981.

Kids Held Hostage: Day 97

All of the American hostages in Iran were adults. For months now, Trump’s zero tolerance policy has been victimizing children. Beginning in late April 2018, the US government took more than 2,500 children from their parents. It still holds more than 550 of them — almost 10 times the number of Americans held hostage in Iran four decades ago.

Where’s the outrage? Where’s the sense of urgency?

If a foreign government had done to American children what our country has done to the kids whom the US government has separated from their parents at the southwest border, the media would be screaming the accumulating days of captivity. The count wouldn’t stop until all of the children had been released and reunited with their families.

Using May 7, 2018 — the date Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Trump’s new zero tolerance policy without any plan to protect the innocent children it affected — today is “Kids Held Hostage: Day 97″ for some of the victims.

Violating Court Order: Day 17

Another family separation benchmark is July 26, 2018. That was the Court-ordered deadline for reunification of the immigrants’ kids with their families. Today is Day 17 of the government’s ongoing violation of that order.

The Kids

Every day brings a new revelation that worsens the family separation story. Last week, the ACLU said that it believes US Immigration and Enforcement (ICE) deliberately withheld — for more than a month — 400-plus phone numbers of parents who were separated from their kids. That contact information could have helped to reunite many of the families. Meanwhile, here’s a summary of the government’s latest status report on the kids and its proposed plan for dealing with them:

— 559 remain in government custody

— Parents of 386 kids have been deported

— Government wants ACLU to determine if parents want their kids back

— Government proposes reunification only in the parents’ home country

The Tip of an Ugly Trump Iceberg

The last item in the government’s plan — reunification only in the parents’ home country — was a tell. Last week, it became clear that Trump is expanding his attack on immigrants to include their international human right to seek asylum.

On Aug. 7, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of 12 immigrants — eight women, one man, and three children — challenging the Justice Department’s June 2018 policy changes aimed at limiting those asylum rights and expediting deportations. Two of the children and their mothers in the suit had already been deported.

Attorneys for the ACLU and the Justice Department had agreed to delay removal proceedings for the remaining mother and her child so they could argue the matter before US District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan on Aug. 9. While participating in that hearing by phone from her office in California, the lead ACLU attorney received an email saying that the mother and daughter were being deported. During a brief recess, she told her colleagues that the pair had been taken from a family detention center in Dilley, TX to the airport in San Antonio for a morning flight back to El Salvador.

The judge was not pleased.

After being informed of the situation, he granted the ACLU’s request to delay deportations for the mother and daughter, as well as the other plaintiffs in the suit. And he ordered the government to “turn the plane around” to bring the mother and her child back to the US. He also threatened to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt if it didn’t.

“This is pretty outrageous,” Judge Sullivan said. “That someone seeking justice in US court is spirited away while her attorneys are arguing for justice for her?”

“I’m not happy about this at all,” the judge continued. “This is not acceptable.”

Outrageous and unacceptable.

Where are the kids? Through Election Day and beyond, every citizen should keep asking that question because it goes to the core of America’s character. The “Kids Held Hostage” clock is running, and it won’t stop until the last of more than 2,500 children whom Trump separated from their families is released. Trump and his Republican enablers in Congress bear the responsibility for a stain on America that will endure for a long, long time.

Kids Held Hostage: Day 97

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