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Stuck in the Middle

Our partisan divide is worse than ever. At the border, innocent children are the ones paying the price.
July 8, 2019
Stuck in the Middle
Migrants wait to board a van that will take them to a processing center, on May 16, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. (Photo by PAUL RATJE/AFP/Getty Images)

“Let me…warn you in the most serious manner against the baleful effects of the spirit of party” 

—George Washington 

“The greatest good we can do our country is to heal it’s party divisions and make them one people” 

—Thomas Jefferson

These warnings from our founding fathers should be a clarion call to us today.  Our parties have drifted so far apart that reason seems to have completely disappeared. There is no more stark example of this dangerous gap than the situation we now see on our border and the handling of asylum-seeking families and children.  

Because of the Republican stand against all who cross our southern border, these children are being warehoused and our government is arguing that the requirement to provide “safe and sanitary conditions” does not include soap, toothbrushes, or blankets. We have higher standards for handling prisoners of war. 

It is unfortunate that I have to remind my colleagues in the GOP that these children—and even their parents—are not criminals. It is not a crime to willingly turn oneself in to apply for asylum at our border. Their claim to asylum may be denied and they may not be permitted to immigrate here, but we must urgently squash the notion that these people have done something wrong. To think of them as criminals and to promote that notion to the public is inaccurate, and it has the effect of dehumanizing the people who have risked everything to create a better life for themselves and their families.

That dehumanizing effect has caused the same Republicans who extol the value of every life when it’s in the womb to deny that same value in human beings who did not win the genetic lottery of being born in America. Radically partisan glasses have blurred the values that they espouse.

On the other extreme, the “progressive Democrats” led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are cheering a walkout by Wayfair employees because of the company’s willingness to fulfill a government order to provide beds for those very children. Rarely has there been such an extreme example of the perfect standing in the way of the good. If Wayfair does not have the workers to fulfill that order, what happens? Does the administration’s policy change? That is highly unlikely, but what we know will happen is the very children whom AOC and others purport to care about will continue to be stuck without a place to sleep. Refusing to let beds be delivered because that is somehow supporting administration policy has the effect of supporting that very protocol that is so abhorrent. 

Both sides are trying to score political points with their respective bases and hundreds—maybe thousands—of innocent children are caught in the middle. Children who will bear the scars of this detention for the rest of their lives. Family separation is not making us safer—if anything, it has the potential to embitter those who are not Americans to the point that they could become radicalized by those who seek to harm our nation. 

We would be wise to heed the words of another of our great leaders, Abraham Lincoln, who reminded America that “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Our leaders need to raise their sights above the partisan squabbles that prevent them from recognizing the effect of their actions. It is not enough to win today’s news cycle for their party at the expense of real people whose lives are at stake—our leaders must be called to a higher purpose of making wise and prudent policy.

Christine Todd Whitman

Christine Todd Whitman is a former governor of New Jersey and administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush. She serves as the co-chair to States United Action. Twitter: @GovCTW.