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Donald Trump defends 'zero tolerance' immigration policy with provocative visual imagery: 'The United States will not be a migrant camp'

New York: "The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility...not on my watch."

Facing rising outrage from the country's politicos and even former First Lady Laura Bush over the forced separation of migrant children and parents at the US-Mexico border, US President Donald Trump dug in Monday, again falsely blaming Democrats and declaring he would keep the U.S. from becoming "a migrant camp."

Children separated from their parents at the US border. AP

Children separated from their parents at the US border. AP

Nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May after US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new "zero-tolerance" policy that refers all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution. US protocol prohibits detaining children with their parents because the children are not charged with a crime and the parents are. The parents who bring children with them are sent to court, while children go to government facilities which a flood of news reports are portraying as "cages".

Just like earlier times, Trump is using his peculiar brand of vocabulary skills as a one time kill shot in a midterm election year.

On one side, we have heart wrenching pictures of thousands of young children behind wire mesh fencing, of toddlers wailing as they see their parents being led away to jail.

On the other is the Trump administration, taking fire for what's clearly reached "crisis" proportions; the American Academy of Pediatrics is calling the situation "nothing less than child abuse".

Where is Trump in all of this, what's he saying?

Consider the words Trump is using to defend what's clearly driven a new wrench into American politics: "migrant camp", "refugee holding facility".

At other times, there have been other single phrase political winners:
- "Crooked Hillary"
- "Low energy Jeb"
- "rapists"
- "failing New York Times"
- "blood coming from her eyes"
- "Lyin' Ted"

Each one is provacative, crafted for live audiences and aligns with confirmation biases that at least some, if not all, voters feel but may not talk about.

In the latest case, Trump is up against a formidable foe - visuals playing on loop of desperate people and little children locked up like convicts, behind chain link fencing and being guarded by tough looking border security police.

In response, Trump has turned those same visuals into his signature brand of persuasion: "The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility...Not on my watch."

This is not mere coincidence, it's precision engineered to simplify to the point of being inaccurate - which Trump does often and has only political success to show for it.

Trump's slings and arrows have travelled beyond low wattage analogy and comparison to dramatic visual persuasion and mental association.

Trump or indeed any politico understands this much - No American wants his or her country to become a "migrant camp" or "refugee holding facility". So, why liken the crisis to something from the past or future when you can make the image the crisis and tap into the stickiness that it already has in people's minds from coast to coast.

Trump asserted Monday that children "are being used by some of the worst criminals on earth" as a way to enter the United States. He tweeted: "Has anyone been looking at the Crime taking place south of the border," calling it "historic."

In a guest column for The Washington Post Sunday, former First Lady Bush made some of the strongest comments yet from a Republican.

"I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart," she wrote. She compared it to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, which she called "one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history."

Underscoring the emotional tension, first lady Melania Trump, who has tended to stay out of contentious policy debates, waded into the issue. Her spokeswoman said that Mrs. Trump believes "we need to be a country that follows all laws," but also one "that governs with heart."

"Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform," spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said. Rev. Franklin Graham, a longtime Trump ally, called the policy "disgraceful." Several religious groups, including some conservative ones, have pushed to stop the practice of separating immigrant children from their parents.

Former White House staffers agree that for Trump, a champion of imagery, the visual Godzilla that's unfolding on screens across America is not good. But Trump has come through tougher tests. This time though, the resistance to Trump's made-for-television allegory comes from as great a persuasive tool as any: a single image of a tired and vulnerable little girl in a red shirt looking up at her mother and screaming.


"It was very emotional, this situation", explains John Moore who took the picture. Moore told CNN he spoke to this child's mother and she told Moore she was travelling for at least 30 days through Mexico. At the very moment when she set her little girl down to be body searched - the moment before the mother is taken away - is when moment she began crying."

"If she fails to overturn this policy (of separating children from parents), the Homeland Security Secretary must resign", senators across the aisle are saying as outrage rises.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen rejected criticism accusing her department of inhuman and immoral actions.

Opposition says Trump is using children as negotiating tools.

Actually, we'll have to dial back just a little more than that.

The Trump administration, via Jeff Sessions, injected the "zero tolerance" policy into an already smouldering issue about a month ago which created the images in the first place.

It's entirely possible then, that Trump is not in the least surprised by what the news media is calling a border "crisis".

Trump ran on immigration and won in 2016; he's certainly not backing down from that stance in a midterm election year.

"It's a problem. You can't let these people (illegals) in but you shouldn't be yanking their kids away either...there's no easy solution", says Michael Kushner, a New Jersey resident who voted Trump.

After an entire day of back and forth between government and a media demanding answers, talking heads are working themselves into a sweat saying that all Trump has to do is to "make one phone call" to stop the family separation at the border. "It's not law!", they complain loudly. Of course it isn't.

By separating children and parents at the US border, Trump has constructed a story that sucks all the energy out of the news cycle. He did not tiptoe into the US election, he is not doing that here either. He is setting the agenda that he wants his voters to see. What he's getting in return is wall to wall coverage.

The critics just missed the party.


Updated Date: Jun 19, 2018 06:14 AM

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