June 28, 2019 / 0 Comments / Uncategorized

Soap, Toothpaste and Migrant Children

The Trump administration set off yet another
firestorm when it was revealed that migrant children were being detained
without access to such basic items as toothpaste and soap. Apparently this is
not just a matter of a lack of funds but of a policy decision—after all, donations
are not being accepted from the public
. One could argue that such donations
cannot be accepted out of concern for the safety of the children or perhaps it
is a standing policy to not accept any donations—these are points worth
considering before immediately condemning the US Border Patrol. However, not
having such necessities seems rather more dangerous than any risk presented by
donations and polices can be changed if the will is there. As such, one would
suspect that creating such conditions is a matter of policy.

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On the face of it, denying anyone these
necessities is morally wrong. Even the Taliban
and Somali pirates give their captives toothpaste and soap
; for the United
States to be unwilling to rise up to the ethical level of pirates and the
Taliban is certainly problematic. The fact that the United States is treating
children in this manner makes it even worse—there can be no argument that the
children are so terrible that they can be justly denied these necessities. First,
they are obviously innocent children. Second, even terrible people are entitled
to necessities when being held prisoner. Despite the obvious wickedness of
denying children these necessities, the Trump administration not only did so,
but defended their actions.

Sarah B. Faban, a Justice Department lawyer, was
sent by the administration to defend their misdeeds. The gist of her argument
was that the government is only required to provide “safe and sanitary
conditions” and since
this does not specify such things as soap and toothpaste, the government is not
obligated to provide such things
. In a now infamous
, the judges made it clear that they did not accept this argument. They
contended that providing safe and sanitary conditions does require providing
the necessities, such as toothpaste and soap. The judges’ reasoning seems
correct. While Faban is right that the specific wording is “safe and sanitary”
and that it does not specify that soap, toothpaste and such need to be
provided, this is a rather easy entailment to draw. To use an analogy, if it
was required that people be housed someplace warm and it turned out that the place
was freezing cold, it would be unreasonable to say that this is okay because there
is no specific mention of heaters or such. As such, the judges seem to be right
about this matter: the children need the necessities, such as soap and
toothpaste, to be in safe and sanitary conditions. As such, the Trump administration
is wrong.

As would be expected in this age of rage, Faban
has been subject to death threats and is the target of hate. While the death threats
cross an obvious moral line, it can be contended that in defending an obviously
evil policy she made herself worthy of hate and contempt. However, it must be
noted that she was doing her job—as a lawyer for Trump’s Justice Department she
must defend the administration. It is almost certain that all of us have done
things we do not agree with because it is part of our job; we should consider
this fact when judging Faban. This does lead to the old problem of disobedience
and the now well-established moral principle that “just following orders” is
not an adequate moral excuse. That said, it can be too much to expect people to
be moral heroes and a case can be made for choosing one’s professional duties
over one’s conscience. As such, while I think that Faban had a terrible
argument and was defending an evil policy, I will not get on the hate bandwagon.

As far as why the Trump administration has been
denying children these necessities, the official line is that
it is Congress’ fault
. The Trump administration has been thwarted in its effort
to shift funds to build the wall and they are asserting that they therefore
lack the funds to provide the necessities. This is certainly a clever way to
shift blame; but the responsibility for the decisions on how to use the available
funds still falls on the Trump administration—they are choosing to deny
children these necessities. As such, the strategy seems to be to use the
children as a bargaining chip with Congress; essentially saying that if he does
not get his wall, then children will go without toothpaste and soap. Using children
as hostages in this manner is morally wrong; this is evident to anyone with
basic humanity.

It is also suspected that this approach is part of
a broader strategy of trying to deter migrants from entering the country. Separating
families was supposed to frighten people into not crossing the border and now
terrible conditions are being used to try to scare people away. This leads to another
moral question which needs to be addressed: is it morally acceptable to deter
migration by doing wicked things to create fear? This will be the subject of an
upcoming essay.

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