Read: It’s still the Trump show
Trump has waved away any attempts to discuss what’s happening at the migrant-detention facilities being run on federal property, and he certainly hasn’t volunteered any answers, other than to blame Democrats for not giving him the money he wanted for a border wall. But on this issue, too, it was the Democrats who were asked for specifics as to what they’d do about the children in custody.
Over several days last week, many Democratic candidates drove to the center of the Homestead Air Reserve Base, just over 30 miles from the debate site in Miami, inland from the beaches serving $15 cocktails. They joined the activists who shouted “We love you!” in Spanish to the teenagers who are being held in temporary white tents. The migrants at Homestead are given fluorescent-orange baseball caps to wear, and they can usually only be seen as they walk between tents.
Warren, Klobuchar, and Representative Eric Swalwell of California all visited the Homestead facility before the first debate, last Wednesday. On Thursday morning, O’Rourke drove up shortly after Sanders had driven away. O’Rourke listened to some of the activists describe the conditions inside, then walked to the stepladders on the other side of the road so that he could look into the base. Are Americans facing up to what’s going on?, I asked O’Rourke as he got close.
“We are not. And I guarantee you, it is not just going to be a stain on our consciences; it’s going to change the character of who we are,” O’Rourke said.
On Friday, five Democrats tried to tour the facility together (a sixth, Marianne Williamson, showed up later). Harris; Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper; and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro got as far as the processing center, with Harris trying to get farther by telling a guard, “I’m a member of the Homeland Security Committee.”
They’d been expecting to be refused entry, and they were. Aides who told me this had already organized the spot for the press conference to complain about not being let in. “This is about children!” Gillibrand said. “This administration has no humanity. What will it take for President Trump to have an ounce of compassion? What will it take for the Republican Party to have an inch of spine? I can’t tell you, because we have not seen it.” Castro, who has made speaking honestly about the border crisis and potential solutions central to his campaign, accused the administration of hiding terrible conditions, sexual abuse, and psychological damage.
“In no other context would we allow little children to be treated like this,” Castro told me afterward. “If a parent in a suburb was treating their child the way some of these children are being treated in these detention facilities, Child Protective Services could come in and take that child away. This speaks to who we are and who we need to become as a nation. This president is failing us, but we’re also failing ourselves to allow this to happen.”