The effects of Donald Trump’s cruel presidency will take years, if not decades, to undo. And when history is written, his tenure in the White House will likely be cited as the darkest in modern American presidential politics.
While the list of the President’s despicable comments is already quite long, this weekend Trump added yet another. On Saturday, Trump used two young Guatemalan children who recently died in US custody to score political points.
He tweeted, “Any deaths of children or others at the Border are strictly the fault of the Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally.” Trump then used the tragedy to argue for his beloved wall: “If we had a Wall, they wouldn’t even try!”
In tweeting this way about these two children, Trump reduced them to pawns in his larger political game. And while Trump is not the first politician to politicize the immigration issue – sadly, politicians on both sides of the aisle have done so – his tweets are particularly stinging because he refused to see these children’s humanity.
And worse yet, he tried to prevent the American people from seeing them for who they were – innocent young children. If we did, that would likely cause more Americans – possibly even some Trump supporters – to be outraged at the President’s callousness.
But these children deserve to be seen as human beings. The first child who died was 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, a young girl who jumped up in excitement when her father told her they were leaving their small village in Guatemala to start a new life in the United States.
Young Jakelin celebrated her birthday with her father as they made the nearly 2,000-mile trek that took them to the edges of the promised land. We can only imagine what she thought and dreamed of as she saw the US border.
On December 6, 2018, Jakelin and her father were among 163 immigrants detained by US Border Patrol agents near an entry point in New Mexico. Jakelin, her father and others were then loaded onto a bus. As border patrol official noted, before the bus departed, her father reported that Jakelin was ill and vomiting. Her health deteriorated during the 90-minute bus ride – to the point she was not breathing. Tragically, she died less than 48 hours after being taken into US custody, with early indications of the cause being sepsis shock.
On Christmas Day back in her village, nearly 150 people gathered to bury Jakelin in a somber ceremony.
The second child Trump used as a prop was 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo, who like Jakelin, hailed from Guatemala. Felipe, like so many young kids, loved soccer. He dreamed of getting an education in America and, even though only eight, promised to one day send money back to his mother and siblings who would stay behind.
Felipe and his father were apprehended on December 18 for illegal entry near El Paso, Texas. Shortly thereafter, Felipe became ill. He was taken by border patrol agents to a hospital where his fever was 103 degrees. After being treated for 90 minutes and prescribed medicine, Felipe was returned to federal custody where he grew more ill. On Christmas Eve, Felipe died. It appears he had the flu at the time.
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Felipe’s sister, Catarina Gomez Lucas, recalled her father’s words about his sick child, “It can’t be. Don’t abandon me here. We have a dream to fulfill.” That last line sums up why so many parents and their children take this long, often dangerous journey: “We have a dream to fulfill.”
Congressional Democrats have already vowed to investigate who is at fault for the deaths of these two children once they assume control of the House next week. While the investigation will likely explore the health and safety conditions along the border and in US medical care, it must also look at the ways in which the President’s immigration policies and rhetoric have demonized these young migrants – denying their humanity and presenting them as invaders who are threatening the American people.
Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, a few things are crystal clear. Two young children died in US custody. Trump tried to use their deaths to help himself politically. And November 3, 2020 – Election Day for our next president – will give us a chance to begin to undo Trump’s inhumane policies.