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JOAN VENNOCHI

Laura Bush and Melania Trump break through the madness on immigration policy

Laura Bush and Melania Trump.
Laura Bush and Melania Trump.(JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

It’s women’s work. Because, after all, it involves children.

That must be why Laura Bush — with some assistance from Melania Trump — became the voice of reason and Republican outrage over children being torn from their parents’ arms and sent to mass detention centers. But if President Trump’s zero tolerance policy for parents who illegally cross the border is “immoral” — as Laura Bush correctly labeled it in a Washington Post op-ed — where were the men, including her husband, former President George W. Bush?

Governor John Kasich of Ohio, a Trump critic since the 2016 presidential campaign, was an outlier, tweeting on June 15, “Quit separating families. It’s that simple.” But before the former and current first ladies spoke out, most men in Trump’s GOP were complicit, or, like Paul Ryan, oblivious to the unconscionable. How else to explain the House speaker’s clueless Father’s Day tweet about the joy of being with his offspring, while other fathers were cruelly separated from theirs? After his sister-in-law’s op-ed, Jeb Bush, a former presidential candidate, tweeted against the “heartless” Trump policy. Here in Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker finally got fired up enough to cancel his order to send a National Guard helicopter and crew to the southern border to help federal immigration enforcement, because “the federal government’s current actions are resulting in the inhumane treatment of children.”

But the pressure, first, was on women to reject the indefensible. As White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was rightly skewered for standing behind the Trump administration’s detention policy, lurking behind the tough questioning was her accountability as a mother: “You’re a parent of young children. Don’t you have any empathy for what they go through?” Sanders was asked at a White House press conference. As a self-described “working mom,” she was supposed to care more about children than about pleasing her boss.

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Mothers and fathers, along with their sons and daughters, are victims of the Trump zero tolerance policy. Inhumanity is gender-neutral. So, too, should our moral outrage be universal. But there’s no such thing during the Trump era, partly because the usual voices of moral authority are routinely dismissed.

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After all, Pope Francis has called on the international community to show concern for migrant children and their families. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops recently issued a statement saying, “Our government has the discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma.”

But Steve Bannon, Trump’s former strategic adviser, still feels empowered enough to call the Catholic Church, “one of the worst instigators of this open borders policy.” As for Francis, Bannon said, “the pope is not infallible when it comes to public policy and that’s a public policy issue.”

The voices of two mothers finally broke through the madness. Melania Trump took a middle ground on the policy being enforced by her husband, saying she “hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together.”

Laura Bush called the policy out for what it is: shameful, cruel, and immoral. She compared the images of children detained behind chain link fencing to those of Japanese-American internment camps during World War II. “Americans pride ourselves on being a moral nation, on being the nation that sends humanitarian relief to places devastated by natural disasters or famine or war,” wrote Bush. “If we are truly that country, then it is our obligation to reunite these detained children with their parents — and to stop separating parents and children in the first place.”

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Good for her for saying that. But it’s sad that in Trump’s GOP, locking up kids starts out as “a woman’s issue.”


Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.