A major backlash to President Donald Trump’s immigration policy gained momentum over the weekend and into Monday after a photo of a 2-year-old Honduran migrant, who cries as her mother is searched at the Texas border, was shared widely on social media. First lady Melania Trump broke her silence on the issue Sunday as did former first lady Laura Bush, who criticized the separation of families as “cruel” and “immoral.” Following Laura Bush’s criticism, Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton echoed her commentary, each offering their own criticism of the policy. And then Rosalyn Carter issued a statement, making the effort to denounce the immigration crackdown a concerted one by all of the living former first ladies.
Writing in The Washington Post, former first lady Laura Bush issued a stinging rebuke of the Trump administration’s policy. It’s exceedingly rare for Bush to comment on White House policy since she and her husband left the executive mansion in early 2009, making her statement all the more forceful.
“I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart,” the former first lady wrote in the Op-Ed.
“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,” Bush added in her piece. “These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history.”
Bush acknowledged the nation’s immigration system has flaws, but called on the “good people” in government to step up and enact a better solution than the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy.
“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,” she wrote. “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. 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.”
By Monday afternoon, two more former first ladies had joined the chorus denouncing the zero-tolerance policy being enforced by the Trump administration. Michelle Obama quoted the tweet Bush had posted to promote her Op-Ed, adding four words to punctuate her opinion on the matter. “Sometimes truth transcends party,” Obama wrote.
Sometimes truth transcends party. https://t.co/TeFM7NmNzU
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) June 18, 2018
And Hillary Clinton, speaking at an event in New York City, blasted the Trump administration’s policy. “Separating families is not mandated by law at all. That is an outright lie,” Clinton said of Trump’s claim that a law enacted by Democrats is obligating him to separate immigrant families illegally crossing the U.S. border. “And it is incumbent on all of us — journalists and citizens alike — to call it just that.” She wasn’t finished. The 2016 Democratic presidential nominee went to to criticize those who are using religion to justify the policy.
“Those who selectively use the Bible to justify this cruelty are ignoring a central tenant of Christianity … Jesus said, ‘Suffer the little children onto me.’ He did not say, ‘Let the children suffer.'” Watch her remarks below.
JUST IN: "That is an outright lie," Hillary Clinton says of Trump White House saying separation of families at the US border is mandated by law. pic.twitter.com/iTMEmzRzss
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) June 18, 2018
Hillary Clinton: "Those who selectively use the Bible to justify this cruelty are ignoring a central tenant of Christianity … [Jesus] did not say, “Let the children suffer.” pic.twitter.com/OTJqShBCAT
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) June 18, 2018
Later on Monday afternoon, Carter slammed the tactic of separating families as “disgraceful and a shame to our country,” in a statement posted on Twitter.
Statement from former U.S. First Lady Rosalynn Carter on children separated from their parents at the border: pic.twitter.com/WVg91SWutl
— The Carter Center (@CarterCenter) June 18, 2018
Melania Trump also weighed in on the issue Sunday, but took a much more diplomatic approach, calling for Republicans and Democrats to come together and reach a solution. “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,” her communications director, Stephanie Grisham, said in a statement. “She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”
For many, the image of the toddler crying highlights the terrible realities of Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy. According to BuzzFeed News, the photo that has struck a chord with many was taken by Pulitzer Prize-winning Getty Images photographer John Moore during a ride-along with Customs and Border Protection agents. The little girl and her mother are asylum seekers, the publication reports. Moore told Getty that the two had been traveling for about a month and were “exhausted.”
“They were taken into custody with a group of about 20 immigrants, mostly women and children at about 11 p.m.,” he added. “Before transporting them to a processing center, transportation officers body searched everyone and the mother was one of the last. She was told to set the child down while she was searched. The little girl immediately started crying. While it’s not uncommon for toddlers to feel separation anxiety, this would have been stressful for any child. I took only a few photographs and was almost overcome with emotion myself.”
Getty reports that the child and her mother will be separated in accordance with the Trump administration’s new immigration crackdown. The official policy does not mandate the separation of parents and their children, but it does demand that all adults caught crossing into the United States illegally be criminally prosecuted.
According to The New York Times, previous administrations have made exceptions for parents traveling with young children, detaining families together in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. But all illegal migrants are now being detained in a federal jail, and they are being separated from their children because children cannot go with their parents to federal jail. Between April 19 and May 31 of this year, about 2,000 children have been taken from their parents or guardians and placed in holding facilities, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed on Friday.
Trump told reporters on Friday that he “hate[s] the children being taken away,” and blamed his administration’s separation tactic on the Democrats — which, as The New York Times explains, is disingenuous. Making a rare comment on her husband’s policies, Melania Trump, expressed a similar sentiment, but emphasized a discomfort with the heartlessness of the current policy.