The Eight Types of Reactions to Separating Immigrant Children From Their Families

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The Eight Types of Reactions to Separating Immigrant Children From Their Families

You know what I read about yesterday? “Tender age” shelters. That’s a euphemism for baby jail. There you go. That’s who we are. Jails for babies.

There’s not a lot of moral nuance in kid prison. But Americans are nothing if not dreamers, and by God, we found a way to equivocate this horror too.

The vast majority of Americans are appalled by what’s happening on our border. You can tell, because even the Democrats have suddenly found moral clarity—and they only act when it’s safe. Still, there’s no shortage of belly-crawling hucksters. That’s true even when the issue is as four-color-clear as concentration camps for children.

What are the thousand flowers of thought that come out our country’s latest degeneracy? American opinion can be broken down into eight categories.

1. Genuine outrage by people who have always hated oppression.

You’ve always loathed our violent, carceral system of immigration. Everything I could tell you, you already know. Perhaps you’re an immigration advocate, or a concerned citizen, or someone who just pays attention. The fact that our government throws children into jail does not surprise you in the least. Nonetheless, you keep on fighting. We owe all of you a debt of gratitude.

God Bless the DSA:

2. Genuine outrage by people who honestly didn’t know about our brutality until now, but want to stop it.

Here’s a spoiler: this position, or the position above, are the correct stances. Look. This is one of those cases where there’s just no other way to do business.

If this isn’t your starting point, get the hell out of my feature right now. I’m dead serious. There’s an option included in most browsers called a “tab.” Go up there and click the X on it right now. I’ll wait.

There are certain moral tests that ought to appeal to feeling beings on a basic level. This is one of those, up there with “child trapped in the bottom of a well” or “screaming man buried under an avalanche of hoarded newspapers.” Whatever the news or the free market has told you, this is not the craft beer of morality. You don’t pick and choose here.

I don’t want to be one of those decency crusaders who says, ”[Blank] issue allows for wide range of acceptable opinion.” Mostly because I think that’s a dodge for people who lack moral clarity. Open borders are the best solution for our world. If we can’t do that, then we can embrace a tolerant, sensible system which provides a clear path to citizenship, and gives rights and protections to undocumented workers.

It’s hard to see how anyone could disagree with this.


But I understand there are people who don’t feel as I do. People who are still outraged about kid jail, but feel qualms about immigrants. Who knows why you feel the way you do?

Maybe you think borders are healthy. Maybe you think citizenship needs to be the result of doing a set number of Herculean labors. Maybe you believe that citizens should have to pay your way in. Perhaps you just feel strange about having a club anyone can join.

Anxieties about order and norms. Understandable. I get it. But what is not forgivable, what is beyond the pale, is this kind of solution.

And here’s the problem: most political problems are set up to have pre-designed answers. Deficit hawks have little interest in raising taxes or cutting military spending. “Deficit” is a problem invented to take care of a specific problem: the welfare state. The hawks were only ever concerned about cutting social spending.

Most everyone hates crime. But the kind of crime we hate, and the way we hate it, is telling. “Crime” in American culture indicates the actions of poor people of color, never suburban drug users, or white-collar criminals, or white men with guns. “Crime” is only focused on one kind of crime. “Crime” only gets solved in one way: more cops, more prisons, more laws. That’s why “tough on crime” is always code for “arrest more Black people” and “illegal immigrants” is code for “Hispanics.”

That’s why immigrant-bashers who are offended by kid jail seem suspect to me. The problem they are concerned about … is a problem designed with this solution in mind. This brutal, deliberate, dehumanizing process we live with. ICE, the Border Patrol, all of the mechanisms of terror and harm our system designs … those are the logical outcome of being “tough” on “illegal immigration.” This is what that means.

3. Suspicious outrage by people who were just fine with Obama’s deportation brutality.

From immigration lawyer R. Andrew Free’s chilling account of Obama’s indifference:

You say you’re with the Resistance, but you’re generally groovy with enforcement when there’s a “D” after the politician’s name. The key for you is brand loyalty, not ethics. Obama could have droned a dozen weddings, and you’d be writing wrist-wringing letters to the Post defending the Presidential executions, using phrases like “real world” and “sad, but necessary.”

In fact, you get a secret thrill when the power of the state is used against approved parties. You’re not actively wicked, but just complacent and morally lazy. You’re proudly anti-racist but describe yourself as “realistic” on immigration, without seeing any contradiction.

You trusted Obama when he increased the bed count for ICE. Not because you hate immigrants; you don’t. But Obama was wise, and cool, and you were willing to support his indefensible actions. If he did it; well then, it was probably the correct thing to do. You’ve shared articles on Facebook explaining that when Obama deported people and broke up families, it was for the right reasons.

You don’t object to Trump operating a stainless-steel machine of industrial sadism. Not really. Because Obama used this system too. Oh, he didn’t take it to this level. Obama didn’t employ Stephen Miller. Obama didn’t delight in human suffering the way Trump clearly does. But Obama served you the same meal. He just had better manners. You didn’t protest when he governed the circus. But you’re protesting now.


What you object to is Trump’s rudeness when he breaks up families, operates ice, and ransacks homes. If only Trump would be more genteel … if only he would be bipartisan … if only these jails could be painted in warmer colors, then this whole mess could go away. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Trump is gauche, and that’s the long and short of it.

4. Convenient outrage by people who know which way the wind is blowing.

You are a grifter. You live in Washington, or New York. You’re what the left calls the Establishment, and what the right probably calls “globalist.” You don’t see yourself that way. You consider yourself one of the smart, principled, sensible folk. You went to a good school and are one of the Serious People. All of your friends are. You don’t see yourself as part of an elite class. What does that word even mean, really? Everybody you know is richer and more powerful than you anyway.

Why are you being punished for choosing public service? Doesn’t Twitter know what you could be making in the private sector?

Even when you speak morally, your advice is tinged with nauseating technical lingo. It’s a verbal tic. You can’t help it.

Here’s what you can do, however: You can read a room. You understand what’s about to happen. Your professional world is chock-full of men and women who’ve spent their entire lives advocating for war, mostly against brown people. You’re canny enough to know that Trump’s policy is massively unpopular among the American public. You have a nose for power. You don’t actually want to do evil. You just don’t feel strongly enough about it to speak up.

You wonder why people like you are always depicted as sniveling villains in movies.

5. The oblivious

You don’t know what this feature is about. You stumbled onto this strange glue magazine, “Paste,” while looking for a video of the important Pace Picante commercials done in the Nineties. Wait, there are jails for kids now?

6. Decadent outrage, from people who are actually responsible for these terrible policies but don’t want anyone to remember that.

You’re known.

You are the Bill Kristols, Madeline Albrights, Megyn Kellys, and Jack Dorseys of the world. Or one of their functionaries. You’re one of the experienced, general-service dipshits who spend their waking life indifferent to mass human misery. You enable bad people for a living.

During the child imprisonment scandal of 2018—that’s how you refer to it—you decided to discover backbones and several other vital organs. Your outrage is selective, and your morality is wholly situational.

You had principles you articulated once … let’s see, when was that? Ten years ago. In a lucid moment at a cocktail party. Wasn’t it something about increasing opportunity and building bridges? Whatever. In your heart, you know you’ll be back advocating for the whole blessed rainbow of American exploitation the moment kid jail goes on the backburner.

You’ll be back doing what you do the other fifty weeks of the year.

7. Rules lawyer bullshit

You are the Rules Lawyer.

You jump into Internet discussions believing you have moral standards, but you don’t. You don’t have anything solid, actually. Everything human has melted from you, like the remnants of melted candle wax under a blowtorch. You have strong feelings about the semicolon, and significantly less passion about ICE.

You have very a strong reaction when marginalized and protesting people do not use the proper names for things. Of course, you agreed with Kaepernick, but, uh, did he really have to protest in that way, at that time? It really detracted from his message—you said so, to everyone you know. Repeatedly.

The most important thing in every debate is that you maintain precise terms, that narcissism of small differences be respected. Remember, every discussion is primarily about you. Even if you’re defending the feelings of others, the crucial point is that those feelings be properly weaponized for your use.

You feel that process is enough to save the world. You honestly believe a law court cannot act illegally.

There’s a strong possibility you are Megan McArdle or Conor Friedersdorf or some other libertarian dunce.

8. Total evil.

You’re not reading this feature.

You don’t read much at all. You get your news from television. And from one network in particular.

Your family probably hates you, but are willing to put up with you as long as they don’t have to listen to you gabble half-spitted syllables about the Muslims targeting your riding mower, and how in your day the dusky folks knew their place.

Despite your constant anger at Mexican children, you haven’t given this immigration matter much thought. Why would you? You’re the Middle American tyrant who gets upset at the Applebee’s waiter if he puts five too many ice cubes in your sweet tea.

You pray to a God who looks very much like you, and has your exact prejudices, believe it or not. If the historical Jesus showed up at your doorstep, his profession and race would offend you for reasons you’re not entirely cognizant of. You voted for Trump, and gladly.

Despite what Jeffrey Goldberg or the editorial page of the New York Times would tell everyone, there’s not a lot of complexity to what you believe. You’re proud white supremacist. You hold beliefs which are fascist, whether you call them that or not.

It’s possible—improbable, but possible—that you do not actively hate immigrants, but are doing this to troll the libs. In which case, you’re morally lower than racists. You’d put children in cages just to get a last, sad, tubercular gasp of sadism before you depart the world.

I have nothing to say to you.


We all fall into one of these eight categories.

Wherever we start, the end should be the same: Abolish ICE. Stop jailing kids. Run the bastards out of power.

This is America, as Donald Glover reminds us. It’s who we are. But we don’t have to stay this way.

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