Many of us remember the feeling of needing to wash off the collective sins and corruption of torture when the news first came out in 2006 of what American soldiers and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operatives had committed in the name of freedom in Abu Ghraib and other detentions centers around the world.
We are feeling the same sickness, the same heartache and the same shame this week in learning that under the current administration, Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) has routinely been separating children from their families, even if the family is legally seeking asylum as a political, wartime or natural disaster related refugee. These children, already burdened by physical displacement and whatever impelled the family to seek a new country must now also suffer the additional trauma of separation from their parents and housing in prison-like conditions. Even if treated with kindness, most children would be terrified by the separation. Their time apart from their mothers and fathers would be lonely and insecure. It’s enough to scar most people for life, the kind of insecurity that the latest research shows lowers our intellectual abilities.
There can be no doubt that Trumpty-Dumpty and his crew take a special pleasure in inflicting pain on those unable to defend themselves. They believe that it’s part of the get-tough image that communicates that the United States has ceased being the door mat that we supposedly were during the Obama Administration, and specifically that we no longer welcome immigrants, at least from certain “s***hole” countries, and will make the lives of those attempting to come here as miserable as possible.
But when you follow the money, it turns out that greed is the main motivation for this horrific new policy which is causing so much unnecessary human misery and harming the America’s international reputation as a beacon of freedom and opportunity.
The money leads directly to private prisons, which already collect about $2 billion a year from ICE to run detention centers. Private prison corporations have contributed mightily to the political campaigns of Trump and Sessions. Once threatened by their own incompetence and the Obama Administration order to phase out the use of private corporations to incarcerate prisoners, the private prison industry is making a strong comeback since the new administration took power. They sit with defense contractors and developers of nuclear weapons and other sophisticated war machinery at the round table of death that the Trump has assembled. This modern incarnation of what Dwight Eisenhower called the industrial-military complex brings together a number of economic players united by their essential mission to help create additional human misery and their dependence on government for funds for their existence.
The math is simple for the private prison industry. The more people who are criminalized, the more people private prisons get to detain, house, feed, control and abuse, and the more money their shareholders and executives make. The more people swept up in ICE raids, the more people can be fed to the private prison leviathan. And separating children from their parents creates the need for more guards, another business opportunity for private prisons. The calculus that leads to pulling children as young as under a year from their parents starts with the need to goose a market to reward political cronies.
As usual, Republicans prefer privatization even when it has been proven not to work. And virtually everywhere, private prisons have proven to be a failure. Over the past few years, the news media has reported fraud, cost overruns or mistreatment of inmates in private prisons in many states, including Idaho, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky. But the private prison lobby has clout, especially among Republicans. So, just like the defense industries, elected officials seek to expand the market for its cronies.
But in a racist society, the math only works when the victims are considered less than human. While fear may serve as the rational for locking up families, racial superiority prevents the perpetrators from feeling guilt for their actions. We are after all talking about lesser creatures, “animals” as Trump recently put it. It’s easy to separate, process, herd and mistreat lesser beings. And in the case of the victims of our bombs and drones, to kill and maim.
Thus a nation that can’t afford to provide adequate healthcare for all its residents, that begrudges poor people food, shelter and other basic necessities and that pretends not to be able to afford to offer quality public schools, free access to higher education, research and development of new technologies and the fixing of its crumbling infrastructure of mass transit and sewage systems nonetheless can dig deep into its pocket to create cruel and mean-spirited opportunities to promote death, destruction and suffering.