Trump Can’t Blame Asylum Seekers for Their Own Mistreatment

“Tell people not to come to our country illegally,” Trump told reporters. “That’s the solution. Don’t come to our country illegally. Come like other people do. Come legally.”


This is Donald Trump’s solution to the problem of separated families, given a few days ago when his administration missed the court imposed deadline for reuniting children under age 5 with their parents. You can read coverage here from the Washington Post.


Sadly, Trump’s attitude flies in the face of everything the human rights movement stands for.


People sometimes do terrible things, and in order to maintain a safe and orderly society crime must be deterred and punished. Murders, thieves, and the like must be forced to forfeit some of their rights and freedoms, otherwise the world would descend to chaos.


But human rights means that no matter what a person does, even if it’s something terrible, they still maintain an essential dignity that cannot be violated. So for example, no matter how heinous the crime, torture is still never valid as a means of punishment. Prisoners lose much of their personal autonomy, but they may not be raped or be subjected to medical experiments.


Trump’s line of reasoning could be used to justify any of this. Let’s say prisoners are being tortured and raped- Trump could just come and say the real problem is crime. ‘If they hadn’t committed crimes to begin with, none of this would be happening.’ Of course that’s true, but it’s also no excuse. Even if someone commits a terrible crime, society is obligated to safeguard their essential dignity and rights.


What Trump said sounds sickeningly like the blame the victim tactic so common to bullies. ‘I hate having to do this to you, if you’d just stop tempting me or provoking me then I’d leave you alone!’


We should also remember that even though Trump refuses to acknowledge it, the asylum seekers he is talking about have of course not even committed a crime. Fleeing persecution is a valid justification for entering the United States without permission. Of course the U.S. has the right to vet these asylum seekers’ claims and remove those who don’t meet the legal criteria, but seeking asylum is not a breach of the law.


But even if it was, that doesn’t give the U.S. government the right to take away their children. And certainly not the right to traumatize these children by separating them from their parents and storing them in cages! These asylum seekers are people fleeing horrible conditions in their home countries. Often asylum will not be available to them, and unfortunately the U.S. will not be able to do much to help. But the Unites States is at least obligated to treat them with dignity and safeguard their basic rights when they are in its custody. Nothing Trump says can change that.

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