I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still. — President Ronald Reagan, Farewell Address to the Nation, Jan. 11, 1989

To me, El Paso, Texas, is an example of this “shining city” and it is well past time for those voices to be heard.

I grew up and spent most of the first 26 years of my life in El Paso, which sits along the U.S.-Mexico and Texas-New Mexico borders. The city has a long, rich, and complex history that begins with the Manso, Suma, Jumano, and Tigua Indians and subsequent Spanish exploration by Juan de Oñate in the late 1500’s. El Paso and Cuidad Juárez, Mexico, were initially founded together as the Paso del Norte in 1659. Subsequently, the El Paso region was part of Mexico and finally became part of the United States in the Compromise of 1850.

Consequently, it is a region where people come together across race, color, religion, creed, sex, and disability to address binational problems. Differences of culture, family stories, and background are welcomed, embraced, and valued.

That spirit fostered the historical event whereby a white college basketball coach, Don Haskins, at Texas Western (now the University of Texas at El Paso) in a Hispanic majority community made history by starting five black players to win a NCAA national basketball championship against the all-white starting lineup of the University of Kentucky back in 1966.

I lived just a few minutes from both the Mexico and New Mexico borders and attended Coronado High School, which is named after the Franciso Vásquez de Coronado, the Spanish conquistador. Our school mascot was the Thunderbirds, which is a legendary creature in the history and culture of some Native Americans and possessed great power and strength. There is some irony there, as these two cultures — both Spanish and Native American — had met and even clashed almost two centuries before Manifest Destiny even brought “the white man” to the region. But it is that heritage and history that the vast majority of El Pasoans, and even most long-time Texans, understand and respect.

This diversity is the reality along the U.S.-Mexico border. We not only celebrate our own unique family backgrounds, but also the culture and heritage of our friends. We also understand the importance of our relationship with Mexico, as they are our neighbors, our friends, and our family. Many kids I knew had parents who commuted daily to Mexico for work or have close family living on both sides of the border.

Some of my friends from the “shining city” of El Paso have been Americans for generations, others are dual citizens, some have “Green Cards” as legal immigrants, and others were undocumented immigrants. We were family and friends, broke bread together, spoke a mix of English and Spanish (often in the same sentence), listened to a mix of rock, soul, country, and Latin music at baptisms, confirmations, quinceaneras, bar mitzvahs, and weddings and struggled side-by-side in search of the American Dream.

These are the people most acutely impacted by the immigration and border policies of the Trump Administration and most border residents find them disturbing and offensive. It would seem that they should be consulted, first and foremost. But instead, they are ignored and dismissed, as this poll from Texas shows.

In contrast, over the course of the last two years, we have been bombarded by the voices from the “disaffected white working class” that voted for Donald Trump (although analysis shows that Trump voters were “mostly affluent”). Sadly, for some, their populist response has included an embrace of a White Nationalist rhetoric that includes an anti-immigrant crusade, as personified by Trump’s two Stephens and his Attorney General: campaign manager Stephen K. Bannon, White House aide Stephen Miller, and Attorney General Jeff Beauregard Sessions III.

Rather than addressing the structural economic and intergenerational issues that face our nation, some politicians like to stoke up divisive “blame the immigrant” rhetoric for political gain. In the last presidential campaign, it began on Day 1 when President Trump descended the staircase in Trump Tower to announce his campaign for president by bashing immigrants as “rapists” who bring “drugs” and “crime” to America and has continued.

It doesn’t seem to matter that immigrants are, in fact, far less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. The strategy has been to demonize immigrants, even the refugees desperately fleeing violence, rape, and death threats to their families, as being heinous criminals and gang members in order to justify anti-immigrant political support and enforcement measures. Sadly, our nation has a long, disturbing history of anti-immigrant sentimentthat includes racial, ethnic, and religious components.

This has resulted in actions by this Administration to:

· call for the building of a border wall;

· cancel protections for DREAMers under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program;

· impose a ban on nationals from majority Muslim countries;

· reduce refugee admissions dramatically;

· end the designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for nationals of Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan; and,

· separate migrant children from their parents.

These anti-immigrant, xenophobic policies are all detrimental to children, but I will focus for the moment on the Administration’s policy to separate migrant children from their parents. According to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, when asked by NPR’s John Burnett if the policy was “cruel and heartless to take a mother away from her child,” he responded:

The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever.

Actually, this policy inflicts enormous harm upon children, and consequently, is the definition of cruel and heartless — and I would add, inhumane, callous, and catastrophic. Frankly, it also highlights the disregard of this Administration to the plight of children more generally. When it comes to the lives and safety of children, the answer should never be “or whatever.”

Chris Palusky is the president/CEO of Bethany Christian Services, which provides care to some of the children that are being separated from their parents by our government. His organization willingly serves these children, but he strongly opposes the policy. As Palusky writes in The Hill in an article appropriately named “’Whatever’ Isn’t an Option for Immigrant Children”:

Being ripped away from parents is already a significant trauma for children. Staff at Bethany and the foster families we partner with are picking up the pieces caused by distressing separations every day. The trauma will only be compounded by placements outside of a loving home. . .

These actions are not consistent with America’s history or our values. Instead, they undermine protections for vulnerable children. The American people have long demonstrated their commitment to protecting people facing persecution. These immigrants have become integral members of our communities, our neighbors, and our friends.

As a nation of immigrants and compassionate people, how can we possibly stand for this? We shouldn’t. It is wrong on so many levels.

For one, medical professionals and child development experts can all attest to the enormous damage and toxic stress that migrant children are going through that is compounded by these destructive family separation measures adopted by the Trump Administration.

As Dr. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, writes:

As pediatricians, we must continue to stand up for these children. We must make the case that they’re innocent and deserve compassion. We must cite science to declare that separation from their parents, siblings or other relatives and caregivers will cause irreparable damage to their brains and exacerbate emotional and physical stress.

Thanks to all of you who took part in last month’s AAP Day of Action to raise the alarm about the Department of Homeland Security’s harmful policy of separating children from their parents. Let us continue to raise our voices and advocate for new policies and leadership that will change how we treat these children and families.

Fortunately, a rapidly growing number in Congress are responding. For example, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) are working together on their Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections (HELP) for Separated Children Act to protect children and families from separation and harm.

Common sense provisions in the HELP Separated Children Act include:

· Allowing parents to make calls to arrange for the care of their children and ensuring that children can call and visit their parents while they are detained;

· Allowing parents to participate in family court proceedings affecting their children;

· Protecting children from being compelled to serve as translators for their parents in immigration enforcement actions;

· Ensuring that parents can coordinate their departures with their children, including allowing parents to say goodbye to their children prior to being taken into custody; and,

· Requiring U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to consider the best interests of children in detention, release, and transfer decisions affecting their parents.

These are basic human rights provisions that respect the importance of families. Our country should never tolerate instances where we are separating families, deporting the parents, and leaving the children behind.

Sadly, cruelty is the purpose of the policy. Despite the fact that refugee children and their families are often victims of rape, violence, and homicide, they are the ones being treated as criminals by enforcement policies that tear families apart, harm children, and facilitate the immediate removal and deportation without regard to asylum claims. As Vox’s Matt Yglesias writes:

The American government cannot, obviously, threaten to kill asylum seekers the way the gangs they are fleeing can. So they devised a kind of psychological torture that they hope will keep families away.

Chief of Staff Kelly admitted it. He told NPR that family separation is a “tough deterrent. A much faster turnaround on asylum seekers.” The Trump Administration have effectively adopted a policy that tells asylum seekers that they will have their children ripped away from them if they proceed with asylum or to waive their claims and agree to be deported in order to remain with their children.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) rightfully points out:

It’s hard to conceive of a policy more horrific than intentionally separating children from their parents as a form of punishment. This is not what the United States of America should be.

These children are, contrary to the assertions by the President, not criminals and nor are their parents. Again, they are fleeing violence, economic instability, and political corruption in their home countries.

And yet, as a 2015 National Academy of Sciences study entitled The Integration of Immigrants Into American Society found:

Today, the belief that immigrants are more likely to commit crimes is perpetuated by “issue entrepreneurs” who promote the immigrant-crime connection in order to drive restrictionist immigration, and media portrayals of non-whites and immigrants as prone to violence and crime. The criminalization of certain types of migration also contributes to this perception. Although native-born Americans’ attitudes about immigration and immigrants are often conflicting, the negative perception of immigrants’ criminality continues to endure, potentially posing a barrier to integration, particularly for the first generation. The historical evidence suggests that immigrants’ descendants were able to overcome these negative stereotypes, but if Latinos, in particular, continue to be racialized and discriminated against, this stereotyping may present a more formidable barrier to their successful integration in the future.

Even worse, the strategy is to dehumanize certain subgroups of people by casting them as animals. As Elise Foley points out in the HuffPost, President Trump has repeatedly engaged in this tactic.

In Trump’s own words, “These aren’t people. They are animals.”

Foley points out that this divisive and dehumanizing strategy has been used repeatedly throughout history and warns that it is often a precursor to violence and even genocide. She explains:

Referring to subgroups as animals has been used to justify violence, including by Nazis during the Holocaust and by Hutu perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide. Black people have been compared to animals throughout history and were treated like them through slavery and violence. Animal metaphors have similarly been used by conquerors and colonialists to dehumanize indigenous populations.

With dire urgency, the Administration’s anti-immigrant and anti-family policies must be rejected.

My friends and family back in El Paso could teach this Administration a thing or two about the strength that comes from a diverse and inclusive society and that the lives of all of God’s children, regardless of their immigration status, deserve a government that values families rather than a policy of family separation or “whatever.”

But if they won’t bother to listen to those living on the border that are most affected by these policies, maybe they should at least listen to First Lady Melania Trump. In her speech at the State Department last year to present 12 women with the International Women of Courage Award, she said:

We must continue once again to shine the light on the horrendous atrocities taking place in neighborhoods around the corner and around the globe, where innocent families are crying out to leave in safety. We must continue to fight injustice in all its forms, in whatever scale or shape it takes in our lives. Together, we must declare that the era of allowing the brutality against women and children is over, while affirming that the time for empowering around the world is now. . .

As leaders of our shared global community, we must continue to work towards gender empowerment and respect people from all backgrounds and ethnicities, remembering always that we are all ultimately members of one race: the human race. Each one of us is uniquely gifted. We must continually [revere] our American values as we join with the international community to make our world safer through acts of collaborative and individual bravery.

And finally, if they won’t listen to the First Lady or those living on the border, Trump and his populist supporters should at least consider these words from Republican President Ronald Reagan with respect to his words above with respect to immigration and this on family values:

We know how good it feels to be with our families — how it warms and comforts us, how it gives us strength and joy. But I wonder whether we always give our families all the appreciation they deserve. Consider, for example, that the philosopher-historians Will and Ariel Durant called the family “the nucleus of civilization.” They understood that all those aspects of civilized life that we most deeply cherish — freedom, the rule of law, economic prosperity and opportunity — that all these depend upon the strength and integrity of the family. If you think about it, you’ll see that it’s in the family that we must all learn the fundamental lesson of life — right and wrong, respect for others, self-discipline, the importance of knowledge, and, yes, a sense of our own self-worth. All of our lives, it’s the love of our families that sustains us when times are hard. And it is perhaps above all to provide for our children. . . .

In a democracy, we are all accountable for our government, which includes how we treat the most vulnerable among us. Anyone concerned about the tragedy of family separation and the harm it is doing to children should contact their elected officials and demand the end to this policy. Our country has to be better than this.

Photo by Peter Pereira with the New Bedford Standard Times via the Washington Post.