Tent Cities and the Police State

Writing about politics and politicians for as long as I have, I’ve long since stopped being shocked by anything.

However, people who do not spend 60-80 hours a week marinating in the toxic sludge of political discourse still have that capacity for shock. A good illustration of that currently exists in the so-called “tent cities” debate.

President Donald Trump and his administration have, as of this writing, separated 2,000 migrant children from their parents at border crossings. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House spox Sarah Huckabee Sanders have defended the policy as being based in the Bible.

(Insert standard quip about how the Bible justifies all kinds of horrific shit here.)

Many of those kids are housed in places like former Wal-Marts, which now teem with kids in utter agony, missing the parents who raised them and not understanding the reasons for separation, and marinating in the kind of trauma that will not only shape their mindsets as children, but will have generational consequences.

That’s not the problem for policy makers. The real issue is logistics. With space at a premium, tent cities (sort of like former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio built) are being mulled to house the kids.

What possibly could go wrong? It’s only 100 degrees or so during the day near the Mexican border this time of year.

Florida Republicans, most of whom see the ascension of Trump as a sort of “year zero” that allowed conservatives to drop pretensions of a limited-government philosophy in favor of a full-throttle expansion of state power, have the administration’s back.

The clearest quote I’ve obtained on this matter comes from Rep. John Rutherford, a Jacksonville Republican and former three-term sheriff who has about as much chance of being defeated for re-election as I do of winning a journalism award.

“If they come across the border illegally, the parents have broken the law. Just like an individual here in Jacksonville when I was sheriff, if he broke the law, I put him in jail. That separated him from his children,” Rutherford said.

“I believe that criminals go to jail. Not children, but criminals,” he added.

Rutherford does not see the internment camps the federal government has built for children as prisons.

“If you look at the way they’re being housed, they’re being fed, they’re being taken care of. They have playrooms, I understand. All of that—they’re not in prison,” Rutherford said, adding that they “shouldn’t be put into prison with their parents.”

“You certainly don’t want them housed with pedophiles and others who might be in that situation,” he noted.

Rutherford isn’t alone in defending the policy. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who hopes to be the next governor, had equally tough rhetoric.

“It’s important that we enforce our laws. It’s important that we enforce our laws in a humane way. But we need to have secure borders. With secure borders, you would have less of this issue,” Putnam said.

Gov. Rick Scott, who very likely will beat Sen. Bill Nelson like a drum in November, actually had something negative to say about the policy, calling it “disturbing” but seemingly necessary.

“Your heart goes out to these families that are struggling with these issues. It shows you how messed up our immigration policy is, that these things are happening,” Scott said.

Reports about what is going on are horrifying. At least one father, a Honduran cleaved from his children, killed himself in custody (perhaps one of the “bad hombres” Trump mentioned on the campaign trail?). And the kids?

Imagine the separation issues: a different language, a different country, men with uniforms and guns, and no idea when or if you will see your parents again. Numbers slapped on the chests and arms of toddlers and school aged kids alike. Apparently, bar codes and tattoos are impracticable, and RFID chips are out of stock.

All of this is happening, of course, during the gushers of sentimentality over Father’s Day by the politicians who green-lighted this mess.

America, of course, has always been a police state. From Manifest Destiny to slavery to internment camps for Japanese immigrants, from stop and frisk to search and seizure to privatized prisons turning profits on no-bid contracts and slave labor. The biggest prison population in the world is an unassailable accomplishment, even as we tumble down the rankings in everything from press freedom to educational attainment and standard of living. And distribution of wealth? It looks more like Russia than the U.S. of 50 years ago, when the middle class was protected.

None of this security theater actually protects us. Especially given the real issues coming our way once our overheated, fake money economy collapses. The pols don’t talk real about that either.