The US is fast losing any moral authority it claims to have as its immigration policy plunges to inhumane depths.

A country fond of pontificating about its moral superiority has been humiliated by the heartless cruelty of the Trump administration, with revelations revealing a systematic and intentional effort to abuse desperate and vulnerable migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, one that includes separating children from their parents and then locking them in steel cages.

Worse – the Trump White House has confessed that dishing out brutal treatment to refugees and migrants is one part strategic immigration policy and one part political strategy – an effort to drive out Republican voters, particularly the party’s far-right base, in November’s mid-term elections.

Trump has spent his entire political life dehumanising refugees and immigrants by describing them as “rapists,” “murderers,” “drug dealers,” “terrorists,” and even “animals.” 

His decision to herd those who are desperately fleeing terrorism and narco-violence into cages is where his political rhetoric morphs into official government policy and dire human consequences.

"No nation can have the policy that whole classes of people are immune from immigration law or enforcement," said senior Trump aide Stephen Miller last week. "It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law."

If you need a reminder of the bold-faced absurdity that has become a feature of the current US administration, then consider Miller is the son of an asylum seeker who sought refuge in the United States to escape the pogroms in Russia.

The separation of children from their parents is the cornerstone of Trump’s strategy to deter future would-be refugees migrating towards the US-Mexico border, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions admitted as much when he said, “If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them. We’ve got to get the message out. You’re not given immunity.”

Official documents also reveal the Trump White House concocted the strategy to separate migrant families shortly after Trump’s inauguration in January, 2017.

Even more disturbing is the fact that “Prevention Through Deterrence” has been official US government immigration policy since the 1990s under the Clinton administration, one that seeks to intentionally kill migrants in the Sonoran Desert as a strategy to deter border crossings, effectively turning the desert into a “killing field.”

During his research into the human consequences of US immigration policy, anthropologist Jason De Leon discovered that migrant deaths shot up dramatically in the 1990s. In his seminal book The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail, De Leon outlines how the Clinton administration sought to steer migrant crossings away from electoral college delegate rich California, which Clinton feared losing in his 1996 reelection bid as a result of rising anti-immigrant sentiment in the state, and towards isolated and desolate areas characterised by extreme environmental conditions.

Essentially, President Clinton chose to use the desert as a tool for border enforcement, and by beefing up border security measures at border crossing points in California and Texas, it would funnel migrants to the harsh terrain of the desert, which would not only kill Latin American migrants, but also would serve as a deterrence to future undocumented border crossers.

De Leon demonstrates, however, that while this policy failed to deter migrants from attempting to cross the US-Mexico border, it did kill them in large numbers. Shamelessly, this policy continues today, regardless.

To put a human cost of this policy into quantifiable numbers, a total of 2,771 bodies were found in the desert between January 2000 and September 2014. Again, this is the total number of bodies discovered. The number of undiscovered deceased migrants is impossible to calculate, but De Leon estimates it could be up to 100 times 2,771, and he identifies a couple of significant reasons.

Firstly, US Border Patrol agents only operate or scour terrain within a few miles of the border. Secondly, and probably even more significantly, De Leon’s research reveals how quickly a human body decomposes in the desert, and whereas human skeletal remains might be preserved for tens, hundreds or even thousands of years in more temperate climates, the harsh environmental conditions of the desert can totally erase any evidence of human life within 10 days.

Using a dead pig, De Leon captured on film how bugs, beetles, vultures, and other birds of prey, working in combination with the dry desert heat, can vanish any trace of a large mammal within days. “The desert really is the perfect place to get rid of a human body,” De Leon joked on the popular Radio Lab podcast.

“The known disappearance of thousands of people in the remote wilderness of the US–Mexico border zone marks one of the great historical crimes of our day,” remarked the Arizona based human rights group No More Deaths in a blistering report on the US Border Patrol measure of using the desert as a “weapon”. 

The group estimates “tens of thousands” have gone missing in the desert, commenting, “If found, the disappeared turn up in detention centers, in morgues or skeletonised on the desert floor; many human remains are never identified. Thousands more are never located. With each passing day, another father, sister, aunt, brother, partner or child goes missing while attempting to cross the Southwest border.”

Essentially, De Leon’s work makes what was meant to be an invisible, ruthless strategy appear visible and even more inhumane than the policy architects of “Prevention Through Deterrence” might have imagined.

That the Trump administration has added the separation of children as a component to this strategy is not only a crime against humanity built upon an already existing crime against humanity, but also a stain that will forever besmirch America’s rapidly declining moral authority.

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