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Joseph Sabino Mistick

Joseph Sabino Mistick: Crossing the last line

| Saturday, June 23, 2018, 4:19 p.m.

If you know people who were separated from their parents at an early age, ask them about their lives, about the wound that never heals. As it is, it happens plenty often just because of the pitfalls of life, without purpose or evil intent. Wartime or disease or poverty are often the causes.

The lucky ones are taken in by their grandparents or other relatives, and raised with some sense that they belong. Before social workers, everybody knew a neighborhood family that raised a child not their own who had no place left to go. In the poorest places and in the worst of times, loving people have looked out for children.

Donald Trump's decision to separate children from their parents betrays those values. Be clear that this is Trump's own decision, and not caused by some non-existent law that he repeatedly cites or the Democrats or previous administrations.

In “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Hannah Arendt wrote, “Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.” So do not believe Trump when he disowns what has happened.

The truth is that he has separated families to pressure other politicians to bend to his will and fund an ill-conceived border wall. That would be a pyrrhic victory, nothing more than a salve for a little man's big ego. But it is the last line crossed: purposefully hurting children for political gain.

Once stripped from their parents, school-age children have been held in repurposed warehouses and big-box stores. Babies and toddlers are sent to “tender age” facilities. AP has reported that doctors and lawyers who have visited the facilities found children “hysterical, crying and acting out,” with no idea where their parents have gone.

And for those who icily proclaim that these facilities are clean, safe and not a problem, South Texas pediatrician Marsha Griffin gets them back to reality, saying, “it's taking kids from their parents that's the problem.” John Sandweg, former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told NBC News that this policy could create thousands of orphans, conceding that “permanent separation” happens.”

According to Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, who has spent time on the border, “this country has no room to lecture the world on greatness, virtue or morality as long as we're the ugly, heartless barbarians who turn our backs to humanitarian crises and tear traumatized children from the arms of their parents.”

Lopez is not alone. Religious leaders across the spectrum, including Catholic bishops, Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists and evangelicals, have called for an end to the separation of families. Former First Lady Laura Bush and Melania Trump issued public statements calling for it to stop.

When this abomination, this assault on children and families, is finally sorted out — and it must be — it will be important to remember those who marched with Trump, who fell into line and who will claim that they were only following orders. We have heard that line before.

Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer (

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