Performative cruelty is the preferred method of communication for the administration of Donald Trump, American president. It is not enough for the president and his allies to characterize certain people as Real Americans. They must be reminded of their Realness—the ownership of and belonging to America that they were always promised—by periodic acts of lashing out at The Other.
Monday’s lash-out comes to us through a report in The New York Times detailing how sponsors of unaccompanied migrant children—some of whom were torn away from their parents when they arrived at our border due to Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy—are often forced to pay exorbitant fees to get them out of detention facilities and into a home.
Considering 78 percent of Americans report they live paycheck-to-paycheck, and 57 percent say they have less than $1,000 in their bank accounts, these kinds of fees to get a child back with their family would be a challenge for basically anyone. This has been the policy of the Office of Refugee Resettlement for some time, though the Obama administration waived the requirement during a surge in migration in 2016 that left shelters overwhelmed. Shelters are once again overwhelmed, thanks in large part to Trump’s since-abandoned family-separation policy, but the government is still demanding the fees.
Naturally, because this is the Trump administration, the move is not only cruel but a waste of taxpayer money.
So we’re spending more money to keep these kids in detention facilities, with strangers, than we’d spend to reunite them with family. This closely resembles the family separation policy itself, which has led to children being kept in so-called “tent cities” on the southern border—in the stifling heat of South Texas summer—at greater expense than if they’d been kept with their parents or in more permanent facilities. As a reminder, many of these people are seeking asylum, a human right codified under international law and treaties to which the United States is a signatory.
Many obstacles in the process of reuniting kids are justified on the basis they’re meant to ensure the destination home is stable and to prevent human trafficking. This is not one of them. Like the family separations and the tents, it’s not about what’s good for the American taxpayer or the human beings who bear the brunt of it. It’s about creating a crisis to justify drastic action, and being as cruel as possible to quench the thirst of an increasingly extremist base—one with all the early signs of a genuine authoritarian movement.