Commentary: Trump's child separation policy bleeds into tight ND Senate race
It seems obvious the moral thing to do would be to reunite the migrant children with their parents at this country's southern border. Stop the cruelty as the first step and go from there. Using children as young as 18 months old as political leverage isn't the American way.
The Trump administration, as a way to scare migrants coming mostly from Central American countries, implemented a policy to separate parents from their children when they attempt to enter the United States illegally. It is called "zero tolerance" by supporters. It is called "inhumane" by detractors.
It is the news story that has consumed the nation, or at least the talk-radio airwaves. It might also become an issue for North Dakota's race for the U.S. Senate, especially with President Donald Trump scheduled to hold a rally June 27 for Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer.
A poll conducted for KFYR-TV in Bismarck showed Cramer with a 4-point lead over Democratic incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. That's within the 5-point margin of error, so the race is technically a toss-up four months before Election Day — in a deeply conservative state that went gaga for Trump in 2016.
But the regional breakdowns are even more interesting. The poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy, shows Heitkamp leading Cramer resoundingly in Fargo and Cass County, 54 to 35 percent. Fargo, the poll says, also has the highest number of undecided voters — 11 percent. That could be a critical number in the state's most populous county in a tight race.
Could children being ripped away from their parents in Texas help sway an election in a state 1,500 miles away?
If this issue is enough to sway undecideds, the battle lines are drawn over the children.
"They need to be reunited with their parents," Heitkamp said on my 970 WDAY radio show Tuesday, June 19.
"I think there is a lot of overdramatization, to tell you the truth," Cramer told Gray Television, which owns affiliates like KVLY, KFYR and KMOT in North Dakota.
This follows the pattern of the campaign. Heitkamp will speak out when she believes the president is wrong. Cramer will never confront Trump. His campaign and personal brand are dependent on wholly agreeing with the president.
In a Tuesday thread on his Twitter account, Cramer tried to tap dance around the real issue — Trump's policy of separating kids from their parents, and whether they should be reunited if they have been — by writing, "While we are a nation of laws, we must always show compassion in the enforcement of those laws, especially when dealing with children who are often innocent bystanders."
But, and it's a big but, Cramer went political in his next sentence, once again blaming Democrats for not fixing immigration laws — even though Republicans own the Senate, House and White House.
"Democrats must set aside their political ambitions and work with Republicans to fix our broken immigration system and secure our borders. Only then will we truly address the problem in a way that prevents separation of children from their families, respects the law of the land and protects the American people."
Heitkamp has been proactive. She is co-sponsoring the Keep Families Together Act, which would halt separation except when there's reason to believe the child is being trafficked or abused by his or her parents.
"If this country needs to separate children from their parents at the border, there is something wrong with our border security strategy. There's just no two ways about it," Heitkamp said. "There is nobody in this town who thinks this is a good idea, except for people who are hyperpartisan."
Heitkamp signed on to a bipartisan immigration reform bill that overwhelmingly passed the Senate in 2013 before dying in the Republican-controlled House. She said the U.S. has to work with Mexico and Central American nations like Belize and Costa Rica to make them safer, in hopes of reducing migration to this country.
But the first order of business has to be getting the kids together with their parents.
"I agree we need better border security, I've been working on that since I got here, but this policy is a distraction from the important work we have to do on border security," Heitkamp said.