On Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer responded to news that a 5-year-old boy had reportedly been detained by himself for hours at Washington Dulles International Airport as a result of President Trump’s immigration order. “That’s why we slow [the process] down a little,” Spicer said. “To make sure that if they are a 5-year-old, that maybe they’re with their parents and they don’t pose a threat. But to assume that just because of someone’s age or gender or whatever that they don’t pose a threat would be misguided and wrong.”
If you are still hoping to find a shred of humanity in the new administration, it’s time to call off the search. Spicer’s casual demonization of children is as horrific as it is heartbreaking. Children and families have already begun to feel the effects of Trump’s executive order, and they will continue to do so until this ban, and the unjustified Islamophobia that fuels it, come to an end.
According to a recent assessment by UNICEF, the children most in need of emergency international assistance come mainly from the countries included in Trump’s ban. Of the seven countries identified as the most dangerous places for children to live, five are on Trump’s list: Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. (All Syrians have been barred indefinitely according to Trump’s order, and all refugees have been banned, regardless of their countries of origin, for 120 days.) Children in Syria are living without clean water and in need of medical aid. Children in Yemen, Sudan, and Somalia are starving. Children in Iraq require vaccinations. UNICEF estimates that there are around 23 million child residents of and refugees from these countries in need of help.
The administration’s insensitivity to child refugees is matched by its stone-cold treatment of law-abiding immigrant families either currently in the United States or with broken travel plans to come here. Over the course of the week, journalists have been capturing devastating tales of families separated by this ban.
ProPublica tells the story of Dr. Abubaker Hassan, who is in his second year of an internal medicine residency program at Detroit Medical Center, an inner-city hospital that serves a low-income and minority community. His wife, Sara Hamad, recently visited Qatar and is now stranded there with their infant daughter, Alma. Like Hassan, Hamad was in the United States on a visa, making her one of 90,000 visa-holders who are no longer permitted to enter the country. Alma was born here, making her an American citizen. “I cannot leave to join my family, and my family, they cannot come back to join me,” Hassan, 36, told ProPublica.
Another family in crisis due to the ban is that of Ahmed Ali, a U.S. citizen who had planned to bring his daughter Eman, who had been living in war-torn Yemen, to the United States on Friday. Her visa application had been approved just last Wednesday, and the father and daughter were set to take off on a flight that would have united Eman with her mom and two sisters. They had already made it through airport security in Djibouti when they learned the news. “I got shocked because I don’t know what I have to do,” Ali told ProPublica on Sunday. “I can’t take her back to Yemen. And I can’t leave her here by herself—she is only 12 years old.”
There are, sadly, many more stories of families torn apart by the ban. Fathers and mothers have been trapped at airports or sent back to wherever they departed from, unable to see their children after years apart. A breast-feeding mom from Sudan but living legally in the U.S. was separated from her 11-month-old child for hours at Dallas–Fort Worth airport.
The GOP has long presented itself as the party that prioritizes family values and hard work, but the ban makes it clear that the sanctity of family life doesn’t hold for Muslims, no matter how law-abiding and hardworking they are. Perhaps the saddest part of this mess is the way it reveals our current administration’s immunity to the power of the family unit as a universal source of empathy and mutual understanding.
Most of us have, or had, parents and grandparents, and have, or will have, children. We know firsthand the power of family ties and can therefore easily imagine how terrible it would feel to be separated from those who make us feel most safe and loved. We’ve also all been children and remember the intense vulnerability felt during the beginning of life, even when it takes place far, far away from a war zone. A saner administration would witness this devastation and adjust its policy accordingly. This administration just sees children as potential terrorists.