We cannot undo the horror of the past. We can only try to heal it.
We will never know the full extent of the psychological damage Donald Trump and his malevolent minions have inflicted upon innocent children whose families fled to this country in fear, only to encounter bigots who feared them. We will never know how many of these children will fail to meet their full potential as human beings because of the deep trauma they have experienced. We will never know how many of these children will endure lives of misery because of the stain this moment has left upon their souls.
We can only try to make sure they have some measure of comfort to offset their pain.
Last week, former First Lady Laura Bush–arguably the last prominent Republican in this country who isn’t a total ghoul–observed that the images of Trump’s detention centers for immigrant children “are eerily reminiscent of the internment camps for U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent during World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history.” That comparison is accurate. However, another comparison to that moment in American history needs to be made as well.
Three decades ago, the United States government attempted to repair the damage done to the victims of internment. In April 1988, the New York Times reported:
Acting to redress what many Americans now regard as a historic injustice, the Senate today voted overwhelmingly to give $20,000 and an apology to each of the Japanese-Americans who were driven from their homes and sent to internment camps in World War II.
The vote was 69 to 27 and followed an emotional debate. The bill’s principal advocate, Senator Spark M. Matsunaga, a Japanese-American from Hawaii, almost wept as, recalling the suffering of internees, he related the story of an elderly man who crossed a fence to retrieve a ball for his grandchild and was machine-gunned to death.
The intensity of the debate, and Mr. Matsunaga’s sorrow, seemed to symbolize the agony of conscience the nation has undergone over the internment issue – and the impossibility, despite the best intentions, of making more than a token apology now.
An estimated 60,000 of the 120,000 people interned are still alive. Those sent away as a result of an order issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942 included 77,000 American citizens and 43,000 legal and illegal resident aliens. The last camp was closed in January 1946.
Under the legislation, $500 million would be paid in the year starting next Oct. 1, with $400 million paid the following year, then $200 million, then $100 million in each of the following two years…
Anyone who spent any time in an internment camp will be eligible for an award, which will be tax free. Awards will go only to those who were actually interned, not to the estates of internees who are dead.
President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act into law in August 1988. Thankfully, the Fox News Channel was not around back then; had the cable channel existed at the time, its hosts would have surely denounced such legislation as “welfare handouts” and “political correctness.” That’s how the right describes justice and fairness.
Justice and fairness demand that similar measures be undertaken to repair the damage done to immigrant children and their families today. They shouldn’t have to wait four decades–though they’ll presumably have to wait a few years until the White House, Senate and House of Representatives are all once again in Democratic hands.
Ensuring that the immigrant children and families violated by Trump’s viciousness are compensated for their suffering must be a priority for a future Democratic House, Senate and White House. It will not be an easy effort, to be sure, and the howls of outrage from the right will be deafening. There isn’t an obvious political benefit; frankly, there is a non-negligible risk that the passage of Democratic-based legislation intended to financially ameliorate the damage of detention could be exploited by Republicans to successfully recapture lost power. However, it will be the morally right thing to do–and the only way to heal the wounds Trump has inflicted upon the body of America.