Fabiola Santiago

Kids in cages did not move Trump to end separation policy. It was our outrage.

The president could have ended the policy of ripping scared, wailing kids from immigrant parents at the border with a phone call to his attorney general.

After all, President Donald Trump created and promoted the vile, inhumane policy of separating children from parents without consulting Congress or even issuing one of his infamous executive orders.

If Trump truly felt moved by “compassion” — as he claimed on Wednesday — he could have ended the suffering after the first video aired of kids in cages. If heart was his true motivation, he wouldn’t have been able to stand for another minute hearing the audio of inconsolable children calling out “Mami! Mamita! Papi!” followed by the callow comments of a Border Patrol agent handling them.

What made belligerent, proud Trump cave on his own policy?

The condemnation of Americans from all walks of life turned him into the thing he despises — a political loser. He talked tough and blamed everyone else, as he always does, but in a midterm election year he flipped in fear, the public backlash forcing him to dump a practice widely denounced by all sides. With the exception, of course, of his bigoted base, whose public display of cruelty toward immigrant children was even worse than the president’s, although no doubt emboldened by him.

The images and sounds of devastated children have traveled around the world and been condemned for what they are: the result of Trump’s ballyhooed “zero tolerance” for unauthorized entry, a hardline measure that treats people who cross the border as hardened criminals and makes their kids pay for what's actually a misdemeanor offense of administrative law.

To do the right thing, Trump didn’t need to issue an executive order. He just needed to reverse himself.

But the narcissist wanted the ego-boosting fanfare that comes with sitting in the Oval Office surrounded by staff and cameras clicking while he shows off the power he wields over people’s lives.


I’ll take the spectacle if it puts an end to the devastating harm done to thousands of innocent Central American children detained alone at centers across the United States — and if these families are reunited.

But this is far from over. I’m not buying what he's selling when, in true form, Trump lied his way to the change in policy and continues to equate immigration with crime.

The separation policy didn’t exist for decades, as Trump said, misleading the American public once again during a short press conference after the executive order's signing. So many journalists hurled questions over each other that not much of consequence got answered. But Trump stubbornly clung to his racist campaign rhetoric: “We’ll get the wall done,” he said.


What really needs an answer is this: What now?

We still don’t know what will happen to the 11,786 minors in detention camps all over the country, including 1,192 in Homestead. Some 3,280 of them are girls but we don’t see them outside playing soccer like the boys. Where are toddlers and kids with special needs?

There were no details or plans put forth as to how quickly family reunification would take place.

And most importantly, this needs clarification: Is the new policy now to incarcerate entire families indefinitely?

It seems that way.

Trump didn’t retreat from “zero tolerance” — in fact, the executive order reiterates it — and makes clear that the parents’ detention remains in place.

“It is also the policy of this Administration to maintain family unity, including by detaining alien families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources,” the order says.

That means trading family separation for joint confinement.

Appropriately so, this move will generate legal challenges. Kids are forbidden from being in immigration detention more than 20 days, according to the Flores v. Reno agreement, a California case that the executive order instructs the attorney general to renegotiate.

Needless to say, with or without parents, the long-term detention of children is harmful.

A truly humane answer to Central American families and youth fleeing violence wouldn’t involve internment camps reminiscent of sinister episodes in American and world history.

No, Trump didn’t develop a heart. No, he didn't develop a conscience.

He got scared — of you, of us. It was our collective American outrage — and the image of our vote in November emptying Congress of complicit Republicans.

Follow me on Twitter, @fabiolasantiago