By Robert P. Bomboy
More than a year ago, on July 9, 2018, I wrote a column titled “Where are the lost children?”
At that time, and for several months after that, America was horrified to find out that the Trump administration had been wrenching children as young as five years old away from their parents at our southwestern border.
How many children?
Over the months the numbers grew. Lawyers, social workers, journalists — piecing together fragments of information — added the pieces together and estimated that federal officers along the border had taken perhaps 3,000 immigrant children and, literally, had cast them to the winds.
Through 16 months of investigating there have been high points and low points — court decisions requiring the Trump administration to track down the children and return them to their parents; foot-dragging by Donald Trump’s henchmen, who begged for delays and claimed they had no records.
They had concocted a terrorizing plan whose cruelty is so huge it is almost beyond belief. Their intent was to create a horror so frightening that it would stop thousands in Mexico and Central America before they set out for the United States.
The overarching plan said to immigrants: “If you try to come here, we will take your children and make it so you will never see them again.”
In the ensuing months, as Trump distracted us, the American people, with an avalanche of outrages, scandals, and abuses — each worse than the one that came before it — the cause of the lost children slipped below our daily consciousness. We heard of children imprisoned without toothbrushes or diapers, families packed into cells so crowded they could only sleep standing up, children as young as seven or eight, many of them wearing clothes caked with tears and the mucus of runny noses, caring for infants they had never seen before.
This unspeakable horror continues.
In court last week, a federal official — Jonathan White of the Department of Health and Human Services — admitted that, including the aforementioned 3,000, Trump’s henchmen had essentially kidnapped an additional 1,250 children from their parents before Trump’s barbaric “zero tolerance” policy was officially in place. Furthermore, other court testimony showed that most of the parents of those lost children have long ago been deported to Guatemala and Honduras.
So these children are irredeemably and irretrievably lost, orphans from their parents far away.
Trump has trapped us in a crisis of American values, a crisis of America’s bedrock tradition as a welcoming and humane haven.
This is a crisis of America’s bedrock tradition as a welcoming and humane haven. And that’s a crisis that Donald Trump has thrown his evil forces against. The unimaginably cruel things Trump has done to the brown-skinned children he doesn’t care about — that’s not us. Until Trump came along, we Americans had always sought to protect children.
Between 2012 and 2014, nearly 700,000 Americans saw the feel-good musical “Annie” on Broadway and came out of the shiny theater doors humming, “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya tomorrow!”
But there’s no tomorrow for the lost children, nor for their mothers who, in their agony, weep through the night.
Robert P. Bomboy has written for more than 60 national magazines and is the author of six books, including the novel “Smart Boys Swimming in the River Styx.” He taught for more than 30 years in colleges and universities, and he has been a Ford Foundation Fellow at the University of Chicago and in Washington, D.C.