As President Trump continued to draw condemnation for separating immigrant families at the border, former president Barack Obama honored World Refugee Day by urging Americans to show empathy, compassion and kindness to those who flee calamitous circumstances abroad. In a Facebook post, Obama asked if America is "a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms" — an implicit rebuke of Trump's controversial immigration policies.
Obama didn't mention Trump by name, or advocate for any specific policy. But several parts of his post seemed to allude to family separation, the Trump administration's policy of splitting undocumented children up from their parents at the border and putting them in caged detention facilities. Obama said that the ability to empathize with others is part of what makes us humans, and asked Americans to remember that the United States is a country founded by immigrants.
"If you've been fortunate enough to have been born in America, imagine for a moment if circumstance had placed you somewhere else," Obama wrote. "Imagine if you'd been born in a country where you grew up fearing for your life, and eventually the lives of your children. A place where you finally found yourself so desperate to flee persecution, violence, and suffering that you'd be willing to travel thousands of miles under cover of darkness, enduring dangerous conditions, propelled forward by that very human impulse to create for our kids a better life. That's the reality for so many of the families whose plights we see and heart-rending cries we hear."
According to the Department of Homeland Security's own numbers, over 2,000 children have been separated from their parents and placed in separate detention facilities since May, when the administration enacted its "zero tolerance" immigration policy. On World Refugee Day, Obama asked Americans to take a step back and ask themselves whether this is the kind of country they want to live in.
"To watch those families broken apart in real time puts to us a very simple question: are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms, or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together?," the former president wrote. "Do we look away, or do we choose to see something of ourselves and our children?"
As criticism of child separation reached a fever pitch earlier in the week, the Trump administration defended itself in various ways, alternatively denying that the policy exists, blaming the policy on Democrats, justifying the policy on Biblical grounds, and falsely claiming that federal law required the administration to implement the policy.
Then, after Obama posted his tribute to World Refugee Day, Trump abruptly reversed course and signed an executive order ending his administration's policy of separating families. However, the order also seeks to extend existing limits on how long the government is allowed to detain undocumented children — although the order itself doesn't do this directly — and moreover, contains no plan for reuniting the 2,000-plus immigrant families that have already been separated.
In his Facebook post, Obama urged Americans to take substantive actions to create the kind of country they want to live in.
"To be an American is to have a shared commitment to an ideal – that all of us are created equal, and all of us deserve the chance to become something better," Obama wrote. "That’s the legacy our parents and grandparents and generations before created for us, and it’s something we have to protect for the generations to come. But we have to do more than say 'this isn’t who we are.' We have to prove it – through our policies, our laws, our actions, and our votes."