Knowing how to quit when you are behind is vital to survival in business and in politics.
President Donald Trump knew he was way behind on the horrifying separation of children from their parents caused by his administration’s “zero tolerance” policy mandating criminal prosecution of immigrants caught crossing our borders illegally. So he signed an executive order June 20 that did not rescind the zero tolerance policy but required that children of adults held for prosecution would be detained together with their parents rather than moved to separate detention centers.
The spectacle of crying children being snatched from their parents’ arms had ignited a firestorm of criticism from the public, media of every description, politicians of every stripe, and even Trump’s wife Melania and daughter Ivanka. The pressure, even for a man as relentlessly wrongheaded and distressingly stubborn as Trump, was too much for the president to bear.
At his core, Trump is a pragmatist. His “principles,” like his opinions and his political positions, can turn on a dime if he perceives that his interests can best be served by changing his mind. In this case, he knew he was a in a fight he couldn’t win and he did what was practical. What he did was no less self-serving because it was the right thing to do, but the rightness of it was gratifying for those of us who were outraged by the sights and sounds of families being torn apart. Trump’s decision was a welcome victory for the American people and a much-needed affirmation of our country’s fundamental sense of decency.
The change in policy demonstrated in dramatic fashion that in our democracy citizen dissent and activism can provoke meaningful change.
But let’s not release the balloons or set off the celebratory fireworks just yet. The border crisis is far from resolved. No decision has been made about the short-or long-term fate of more than 2,300 children, including infants, who are still being held, away from their parents, in an alarming mishmash of facilities around the country – some of which, according to news reports, have histories of abuse and neglect of their youthful clients.
It would be safe to guess that the administration will find a way to address the dilemma of “freeing” the children being held in these centers. This issue is so overarching it will hover over Trump like a giant dark shadow, blotting out anything and everything else he tries to do until there is a resolution.
And though Trump’s executive order ends the practice of separating families, it doesn’t address the underlying problem – how and where to keep them together while the parents are working their way through the court system. A longstanding court decision prohibits the government from detaining children for more than 20 days and the legal process for illegal border crossers almost always takes longer than that. The Justice Department asked a federal judge June 21 to change the 20-day rule to allow the government to hold families until their criminal cases are resolved or officials decide to release them.
It’s troubling, meanwhile, that the federal government has withheld information about children who remain, in effect, in custody. Federal and state elected officials have been denied the chance to visit and evaluate facilities where children are housed, including so-called “youth shelters” that retain government contracts despite unsavory reputations
The government will not confirm how many children separated from their parents have been sent to New York City, to name one location, although Mayor Bill de Blasio says 350 children have been sent to New York and 239 are still there.
He said one child being held is nine months old.
“How is it possible that none of us knew that there were 239 kids right here in our own city?” he asked. “How is the federal government holding back that information from the people of this city and holding back the help these kids could need?”
Moments such as this in our nation’s history make me proud, and at the same time worried, about journalism. Reporting by CBSN, the digital arm of CBS, and The Washington Post, in particular, has exposed the horror of children being separated from their parents under the dubious umbrella of “zero tolerance” for illegal immigration.
It’s been popular for a long time for folks to say “no one reads newspapers any longer.” Well, they do. And those people post comments online and on social media. Those stories that allegedly no one reads or listens to shine a light on government abuses such as the current border crisis. That light illuminates the path to change and reform.
But the state of the news industry is shaky, its fate impossible to predict. We have fewer reporters than in decades past and therefore fewer people to shine the light in dark corners.
Those who are left must keep up the fight and an informed citizenry must demand change and action. That chain effect works and it worked in the face of crisis at our border. It can work again and can always work, as long we insist on it, as long as we all do our jobs.
Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org