Obama: 'Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents' arms?'

Dylan Stableford
Senior Editor

Former President Barack Obama weighed in Wednesday on the Trump administration’s controversial “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that has resulted in thousands of children being separated from their families at the U.S. southern border.

“Today is World Refugee Day,” Obama wrote in a Facebook post. “If you’ve been fortunate enough to have been born in America, imagine for a moment if circumstance had placed you somewhere else. Imagine if you’d been born in a country where you grew up fearing for your life, and eventually the lives of your children. A place where you finally found yourself so desperate to flee persecution, violence, and suffering that you’d be willing to travel thousands of miles under cover of darkness, enduring dangerous conditions, propelled forward by that very human impulse to create for our kids a better life.

“That’s the reality for so many of the families whose plights we see and heart-rending cries we hear,” he continued. “And to watch those families broken apart in real time puts to us a very simple question: are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms, or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together? Do we look away, or do we choose to see something of ourselves and our children?”

Former President Barack Obama speaking in Richmond, Va., Oct. 19, 2017. (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Obama’s post was published early Wednesday afternoon, shortly before President Trump signed an executive order ending to end family separations at the border.

The Trump administration has been facing a growing bipartisan backlash for its zero-tolerance policy on illegal immigration, which has resulted in more than 2,000 children being separated from their families since April, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The executive order did not rescind the “zero-tolerance” policy, but it specified that children would no longer be separated from their parents. Exactly what that means for the 2,000-plus kids currently removed from their parents remains unclear.

Critics, including all five current and former first ladies, including Laura Bush and Melania Trump, publicly condemned the separations.

“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,” Melania Trump’s spokeswoman said in a statement on Sunday. “She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”

Related: How to help separated families on the border

In his Facebook post, Obama echoed their sentiment.

“Our ability to imagine ourselves in the shoes of others, to say ‘there but for the grace of God go I,’ is part of what makes us human,” he wrote. “And to find a way to welcome the refugee and the immigrant — to be big enough and wise enough to uphold our laws and honor our values at the same time — is part of what makes us American.”

Obama added: “That’s the legacy our parents and grandparents and generations before created for us, and it’s something we have to protect for the generations to come. But we have to do more than say ‘this isn’t who we are.’ We have to prove it — through our policies, our laws, our actions, and our votes.”

President Trump during a meeting on immigration policy with Republican members of Congress at the White House on Wednesday. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump falsely blamed Democrats for supporting immigration laws that he said had given his administration no choice but to separate children from their families. There is no U.S. law requiring that the children of immigrants entering the country illegally be separated from their parents. This administration — unlike the previous two — has treated the adults as criminals and jailing them, which requires them to be separated from their children.

The Obama administration did try, unsuccessfully, to detain families who crossed the border illegally in special detention centers. But after a federal judge in California ruled that it violated “a longstanding agreement barring kids from jail-like settings,” the Obama administration subsequently began releasing families into the United States pending notification of their next court date.

Trump has long criticized the so-called catch and release arrangement.

“We release the people, they never come back to the judge anyway,” Trump said Tuesday. “They’re gone. They’re in your system. That’s it. If they’re good, that’s great. And if they’re bad, you’ll have killings, you’ll have murders.”

At the White House on Wednesday, Trump framed the border dilemma this way: “If you’re really, really pathetically weak, the country’s going to be overrun with millions of people and, if you’re strong, then you don’t have any heart. That’s a tough dilemma. Perhaps I’d rather be strong.”

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