The immigration issue has turned into a nightmare for U.S. House of Representatives Republican incumbents as they approach Election 2018. President Donald Trump’s policy of “Zero Tolerance” under which refugee children were being separated from their parents at the Mexican border was being overwhelmingly condemned not only by his political adversaries but also by foreign leaders, including British Prime Minister Theresa May and international religious and moral leaders such as Pope Francis.
This was a cruel and inhumane policy that the President could have ended by unilateral executive action at any time. Republican members of the House and Senate appeared most uncomfortable with Zero Tolerance. Yet few repudiated the President and called upon him to immediately end the policy.
Late on Tuesday afternoon, June 19, President Trump met with House Republicans and expressed a willingness to end the Mexican border separation of children from parents if Congress would pass legislation dealing with the immigration issue on an overall basis. This was a meaningless gesture, however, as there is no chance whatsoever of passage of such legislation in the Senate.
House Republican leaders appeared flummoxed and immobilized after the Tuesday conference. Tom MacArthur, Republican Representative from New Jersey’s Third Congressional District, however, defied this “inaction consensus” and took action on his own.
MacArthur issued a statement which said the following:
“I have stated emphatically that the separation of children from their parents must stop immediately. I believe that President Trump can and should put a stop to it immediately. If he will not, Congress must act. I do not believe children should be used as bargaining chips or as a deterrent. Let us remember, the ACLU sued President Obama’s Administration for detaining families as an intimidation tactic. It was wrong then and it is wrong now.”
This statement firmly gave Tom MacArthur the high moral ground on the immigration issue. It also was a Declaration of Independence from a President Trump, whose despicable and vile character has been vividly on display by his dehumanizing description of immigrants as “infesting” America, as if the immigrants were insects or rodents. This is the same type of rhetoric Adolf Hitler used to rhetorically dehumanize Jews.
But in America, even a political thug president is not immune to domestic and international pressure. Hours after MacArthur issued his statement, Trump issued an executive order, rescinding his policy of separating refugee children from parents at the Mexican border.
The nation will watch Trump carefully to see what efforts he takes to reunite with their families refugee children wrongfully separated by him from their parents. Tom MacArthur’s actions during the Zero Tolerance scandal, however, have established himself as a man of honor, courage, independence, and decency.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.