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Bearing witness to the truth

Merriam-Webster defines the phrase “to bear witness” as “to show that something exists or is true.”

This is a moment to bear witness, to tell the truth. And the truth is that President Trump’s deliberate policy of separating immigrant children from their parents is profoundly cruel, immoral, un-American and un-Christian. No matter how this tragedy is eventually resolved, every day that goes by, innocent youngsters are suffering severely.

“We know that family separation causes irreparable harm to children,” states Dr. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “This type of highly stressful experience can disrupt the building of children’s brain architecture. Prolonged exposure to serious stress — known as toxic stress — can lead to lifelong health consequences.”

More than 4,500 mental health professionals and 90 organizations joined a petition urging Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end their policy, warning: “To pretend that separated children do not grow up with the shrapnel of this traumatic experience embedded in their minds is to disregard everything we know about child development, the brain and trauma.”

We must bear witness to a second truth: Trump’s defense of his policy is a blatant lie, an argument the Washington Post fact-checkers called “violently divorced from reality.” The president says he has no choice, he’s just enforcing the law, but obviously he does have a choice.

Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama were faced with similar problems and made very different decisions, freeing families with children who violated immigration laws until their cases came up for legal review. Trump’s closest adviser on immigration, Stephen Miller, admits — and even boasts — that this administration consciously changed the old approach, causing the current crisis.

“It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero-tolerance policy for illegal entry, period,” he told the New York Times. “The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.”

Trump’s deception on this point is so indefensible that even some of his closest allies refuse to swallow his protestations of helplessness. “I think the White House can fix it if they want to — I don’t think there’s any question about that,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a loyal Trump supporter.

Here is a third truth: Attempts by Sessions and other Trumpians to invoke scripture in defense of their actions also ring false. Sessions approvingly quoted the apostle Paul’s admonition in Romans 13 “to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.” But Biblical scholars immediately pointed out that the same verse had been used — or misused — to oppose the American Revolution and justify slavery.

Moreover, they quoted numerous Biblical passages that support Trump’s critics and oppose his harsh policies. For example, Deuteronomy 10: “For the Lord your God … loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

In fact, notes Russell Moore, a leading Southern Baptist official, “there’s definitely a groundswell of opposition from virtually every corner of the Christian community” against Trump’s positions.

The Roman Catholic Church has been particularly critical of Trump’s anti-immigrant campaign, calling it a “right to life” issue, echoing the language used by the church to condemn abortion. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference, issued a statement saying, “Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together.”

A fourth truth: Trump triggered this crisis for only one purpose — to make a cynical and incendiary appeal to his most loyal supporters. The president believes strongly that the immigration issue helped get him elected, and he’s probably right. So, the same politician who called undocumented immigrants “rapists” when announcing his candidacy is now calling them “animals” and “some of the worst criminals on earth.”

But Trump’s latest nativist outburst is clearly backfiring. Crying children are not criminals, and a Quinnipiac poll recently found that 66 percent of respondents oppose the president’s policy. Republicans are so alarmed at the potential fallout that the party leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, announced that all 51 GOP senators would back an urgent legislative effort to reverse Trump’s course, since the president won’t do it himself.

Even if that effort succeeds, a very big “if,” here’s a final truth: This whole sickening episode has inflicted lasting damage — to the psyches of several thousand children, to the legacy of the president, and to the reputation of this country around the world.

Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at

Cokie & Steve Roberts

Cokie & Steve Roberts

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