You never blame the victim of a crime. Despite the occasional rulings of rogue judges and the bizarre utterances of lawmakers and candidates emboldened by what they hear on talk radio or see on cable TV, it’s pretty much accepted in public discourse that a woman is not to blame for her rape because her skirt was too short or she had too much to drink. A homeowner is not to blame for a theft because an alarm hadn’t been installed. A robbery victim isn’t to blame because the street was dark. The perpetrator is fully held to account for these crimes, not the victim.
The news media have reported on the administration’s plans to build tent cities on military bases to house 100,000 detained migrants. Others, fleeing violence at home, have followed established procedures to request asylum but instead have been arrested and summarily deported. President Trump has publicly called these people “animals,” saying, in effect, that they are subhuman. His comment reeks of misplaced blame.
In some of his most ugly remarks, the president, in a televised White House ceremony, praised the so-called Angel Families, the loved ones of Americans killed by “illegals,” casting the migrants as dangerous criminals in waiting. To buttress his case, he cited figures extracted from a flawed 2011 government report on crime rates involving migrants to concoct his own statistics. He has done so repeatedly, blaming the migrants for crimes they have never committed. In November 2016, the Washington Post reported that the figures were “misleading and lack context.” In addition, a University of Wisconsin study by criminologist Michael Light, who analyzed figures from 1990 to 2014, found that “undocumented immigration does not increase violence.”
Now, thousands of migrants have been arrested and their children seized. With the exception of four children, the administration has failed to meet the deadline set by a federal judge to reunite the youngest children with their parents. No one is betting that it will be able to meet the other deadlines. The president has also called for the complete elimination of judicial process for the migrants and is said to be weighing even harsher separation and deportation policies.
It is not hyperbole to say, much as we may be reluctant to do so, that history is repeating itself, albeit on a smaller scale than in World War II Europe, when Jews and other minorities were deported to detention camps. Now, it is Spanish-speaking children who are being loaded onto planes or being spirited away in vans in the dead of night to shelters whose locations are often kept secret from civic officials and, to date, closed to the press.
We should have seen this coming. In his first TV interview after being elected, on “60 Minutes” on Nov. 13, 2016, President Trump said he would “immediately” deport “2 million — it could even be 3 million” — undocumented residents. “We are getting them out of the country,” he said, or “incarcerate them.” He said nothing of due process.
These migrants are the victims of not just a needlessly cruel government policy, but the sheer incompetence of many of the contractors, some of them private prison operators, who were hired to house the children. Most of these contractors failed to properly identify the children — some of them infants — when they accepted custody, and have lost track of who they and their parents are as a result. Despite their widespread failure, many of the contractors are reaping windfall profits for their work.
The migrant parents and their children are the victims of a perverted form of frontier justice with mass trials that lead to immediate deportation. In a bizarre proceeding that resulted in massive publicity, a judge, with extraordinary embarrassment, tried to establish that the crying one-year-old child in front of him, separated from his parents, understood the nature of the charges against him.
Demonizing the migrants and blaming them for their plight serves only to normalize the xenophobia President Trump is fomenting for his own partisan purposes. It’s a petri dish of ethnic bias.
King is the former senior writer on the staff of the National Crime Prevention Council in Washington, D.C.