The Silent Army

Last week, the department was saying this:

[Health and Human Services] Secretary Alex Azar claimed migrant parents who have been separated from their kids under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy should be able to easily locate their children, countering reports about difficulties families have faced. “There is no reason why any parent would not know where their child is located,” Azar testified at a Senate Finance Committee hearing this morning. Azar said he could locate “any child” in his department’s care “within seconds“ through an online government database.

Thursday, less than a week after they were ordered to reunite children with their families, the department was now reporting this:

Trump administration health chief Alex Azar said Thursday that no immigrant children separated from their parents have been reunited with their families in federal custody — yet — to comply with looming court order deadlines to do so. But Azar said the U.S. Health and Human Services Department will comply with the first of those deadlines to take children in HHS custody and place them with parents who are in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement next Tuesday.

Azar said there are somewhat fewer than 3,000 kids who were separated from their parents when they jointly tried to illegally cross the border with Mexico. That is much higher than the 2,047 children that HHS recently said were in its custody. Azar said the new number is higher because a judge has required HHS to reunite all separated children, including ones taken from parents before the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy took effect in May.

The story remained the same Friday morning, then changed again.

Just days ahead of a deadline, the Trump administration said it may need more time to reunite some of the immigrant families it separated. […] “If we’re not aware of where the parent is, I can’t commit to saying that reunification will occur before the deadline. … We’re still determining what the situation is there,” [Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian] said, “and whether those are situations where reunifications may not be able to occur within the time frame.”

After the hearing, ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said it was troubling that officials still can’t provide precise statistics about families they separated. “It was clear today that the government has not even been able to match all the children with parents,” he said. “That is extremely troubling.”

Things are so bad, this government department is trying to redefine what “reunite” means. Emphasis mine.

“The secretary told us on a conference call that they do not have any intention to reunify these children with their parents. They are going to call it good if they could find anyone else to serve as a foster parent or might have some familial relationship,” [Washington state Governor Jay] Inslee told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes late Friday, when he asked about a June 29 meeting mentioned in a letter addressed to officials on Friday.

“Perhaps we should not be surprised. This whole indignant and traumatic episode was based in inhumanity at the beginning, it was based on deceit in middle, and now it’s based on incompetence. These people have no idea what they are dong — I’ve seen coat check windows operate with a better system.”

I called that one. But do you recognize the basic tune? Trump says talks in North Korea are going well, only to have the North Koreans say otherwise hours later. Trump switched from saying talks on an immigration bill were a waste of time, only to all-caps call for a bill to be passed. Trump said he couldn’t do anything about family separation, then did something about it. That resemblance isn’t a coincidence; as I put it in the Political Madness thread,

Every government is dominated by civil servants who are managed by the party in power. If the President is the brains, these people are the senses, muscle, and bone. Traditionally, all but the highest-level managers are considered neutral parties and allowed to hang around for several administrations, only being removed in case of extreme incompetence. This keeps institutional knowledge around, and preserves continuity between administrations.

Trump has been quietly gutting the civil service, though, and while he’s left a lot of open spots the people he’s put in place are openly partisan and follow his corrupt lead. If a Democrat follows Trump and is serious about cleaning up, they’ll essentially have to gut the civil service all over again, reinforcing the precedent Trump put in place and making it easier for future Republicans to wash-rinse-repeat. If the Democrat plays nice, a lot of Trump loyalists will remain and have an effect on practically every policy managed by the Executive branch.

Trump’s effect on the United States’ “silent army” will be the most painful and lasting part of the Trump administration, I figure. His corruption, hypocrisy, and graft signals to other cabinet members that he’s A-OK with them following his lead until it becomes too much of a political burden. These cabinet members will be A-OK with their employees following the same pattern, and the corruption will spread among civil servants that normally remain seated across different administrations.

This is already having a major impact, as the current asylum seeker shitshow makes it “difficult to disentangle the malevolence, incompetence and simple indifference.”

But it also seems clear that the government is holding out the specter that substantial numbers of these “putative parents” may be human smugglers or unrelated criminals when there is really no evidence that’s the case. It is, as the judges sometimes put it, something that shocks the conscience that, having first separated these families, the government would now make itself the judge of the parents’ fitness to be parents. It is impossible to read these arguments and not be convinced that the same aggressive and punitive desire to do harm isn’t motivating the nominal reunification process just as it drove the decision to separate the families in the first instance.

The asylum system in the US was horribly broken before Trump arrived, but by handing the keys over to the cruel and corrupt Trump has made that system incalculably worse. One-year-old children need to hire their own lawyers, children are going unbathed for months at a time, and people are in concentration camps under inhumane conditions.

For eight days I was held in a small room with over 60 men. We called it The Freezer because the air conditioning was so strong that we felt like ice. The men got sick inside and we had to sleep, use the toilet, and pass the time all in the same tiny room. […]

[The children] did not have shoes or blankets in the detention center, and there were people in the cells that had to sleep standing up. They did not have enough to eat either, and could not drink the water, because of the chlorine they added to it … the incarcerated children were insulted – called named such as “animals” and “donkeys. […]

Both men visibly struggled to maintain their composure while recounting the trauma that they experienced since coming to the United States and ultimately broke down into tears. Our interpreter too broke down into tears, finding their stories too painful to bear.

Welcome to the ineptitude, cruelty, and indifference of your current government, America, and be advised that it’ll get worse before it gets better. Fortunately, you hold the key to making it better.