Skip to Content

VIDEO: On Senate Floor, Booker Blasts Trump Policy of Forcibly Separating Immigrant Children From Their Parents

Booker: “We can and we must act to stop this inhumane, immoral, and un-American practice”

June 19, 2018
Photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) took to the Senate floor this afternoon to blast the Trump Administration’s policy of forcibly separating immigrant children from their parents.

“Yes, we need to uphold our just laws. But separating and imprisoning children and families is not how we do that. We need to protect our borders, but we need also to reflect our values, to protect our values, to affirm the character of this country. We need to protect and secure the ideals of a nation that we have all stood for. And in the moral -- this moral moment in our nation's history, that means protecting and standing up for the dignity and the humanity of these children. I say again, future generations will look back at this moment, at this crisis of conscience, and they will see what has already happened, and they will see this as a low moment and they will wonder what we did during this time.

“History does have its eyes on us , but we have a chance right now to show them what we did, to let them see that when our morals have been tested, how we responded. They will look to see what people in this country did when people were having their values violated and their ideals and the dignity of their children and families assaulted. They'll look to see what we did.”

A link to video of Senator Booker’s remarks can be found here.

A rushed transcript is below.

Thank you very much. Mr. President, I rise today to speak about the humanitarian crisis we're facing in our country. It's a moral crisis, a crisis that didn't come about by some natural disaster.

It's been manufactured by the actions of the Trump administration, the actions of our president. Since the past April, over 2,700 children, some of them just infants, have been forcibly separated from their parents. That's about 45 children every single day.

These children have been ripped from the arms of their parents. In some cases literally. These children have been imprisoned or deported.

And at this very moment, many of these children are being warehoused, some of them put behind what amounts to cages, some of them being covered in thin tin foil-like blankets that we see handed out to marathon runners. I know that these children are experiencing great fear, great trauma, wondering where their parents are, wondering what will happen to them, confused, feeling isolated, alone. They're wondering if they did something wrong.

They're wondering what they did to deserve this. But more than this, we know that these children are enduring psychological damage, literally having a physical effect on their brains. Pediatricians and researchers know that trauma like this creates toxic stress.

These children are enduring things that affect the development of their brains, their life well-being. The research is clear. They found that separating children from parents literally changes the makeup of their brains.

This level of cortisol, this level of trauma. One pediatric expert calls the effects of this kind of family separation, and I quote, catastrophic on those children. And at this very moment so many Americans, these children and others are wondering what's happened to the America that we believe in, that we know about, that we hail?

What is happening to this nation that is for so long been a symbol of hope, a symbol of opportunity? How could we be seeing an America, how could they be experiencing an America that is so different from who we say we are? Well, the answer to the question, unfortunately, is painful, and it's direct.

A little over two months ago Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Homeland Security Kristyn Nielson and President Trump made the decision to institute what they're calling a zero tolerance policy, when it comes to individuals and families who cross the southern border without documentation or authorization. The policy dictates that any adult who illegally crosses the southern border will be subject to federal prosecution and, therefore, placed in federal custody. When the Trump administration instituted this policy, they knew exactly what they were doing.

They were concerned, probably with the fallout with what this might mean, with what people might say, but they clearly knew, consciously knew what would happen. Because any accompanying children could not be placed in criminal detention facilities with their parents once they were charged and detained. The families would be separated.

The forced separation of children and families was not an unintended consequence of the Trump administration policy. It was and is a purposeful decision, done with full consciousness of the impact on families and of children. As news reports and photos of this inhumane policy that's shocking the consciousness of Americans, not left or right, not Republican or Democrat, it's shocking the consciousness of Americans, as images of these actions have spread over the past several days, we have seen the President and members of the administration try to distance themselves from the very policy they created. They've even gone so far -- and it's not shocking at this point, but to hear the President out-and-out lie and try to blame Democrats in Congress, try to blame a federal law, try to blame anything but to accept responsibility. When clearly, as my colleague Lindsey Graham, has said, this is something that didn't come about from this body.

This didn't come about because of some Democrats. Chuck Schumer didn't do this. Nancy Pelosi didn't do this. this was a decision made by our President that he could stop right now, as Senator Graham says, with a phone call.

And so let's be clear about something. This is a policy, this is a decision, this is a President who is assaulting. It's moral vandalism.

Who is assaulting the values, the common decency of our country, the ideals that we hold dear. It's being carried out by officials, Trump administration officials, something that can be reversed with a phone call. And so this moment really is a moral, moment of moral reckoning in the United States of America. It is a low point.

it is a heartbreaking point. And I'm one of those people that believes if this country hasn't broken your heart, you probably don't love her enough. This is one of those moments like we've seen in the past where we will be judged how we react in this moral moment.

Future generations will look back at this crossroads of conscious in the same way we look back at some of the most shameful chapters, shameful moments in our history. They will look back and see what we did, what we said, how we acted, how we stood up, how we fought, how we demanded during this time. Today we look back at the horrors of slavery, the shame of that time and the way that purposely fracturing families was used to terrorize and subjugate black Americans, how children were torn from the mothers and sold away, how wives and husbands were violently separated.

And we know that these acts were not just financial decisions on the part of slave owners. It was deeper than that. It was this idea of subjugating, this idea of dehumanizing, this people and dehumanize them, it makes it easier to victimize those folks, to assault their dignity, unconscious of the fact that when you assault the dignity of others, you assault the dignity of yourself.

Today we look back with shame and regret of the practice of the internment of Japanese Americans, an out-and-out violation of our values and our ideals as a country. Our fellow Americans over 120,000 men and women and children forcibly removed from their homes and put into detainment and internment camps. Today we look back with deep shame and regret at how Jewish refugees fleeing from the Holocaust were turned away from our shores, many of whom were sent back to Germany and killed by the Nazis. Today we look back with shame at the way Native American families were separated, their children taken, sent to boarding schools where they were stripped of their language, stripped of their culture.

These were moral moments in our past. And you know what? We tell ourselves that we were in those moments.

If we were in those times, maybe we would have stood up, like so many people of good faith, of every background did stand up in those times. We think to ourselves that if we were there in those moments, we would have done something. We would have acted.

But we are at that moment. We are at a defining moment in our history. We are at a moral crossroads.

We are at a point where our nation's character is being revealed. When we look at history, we have seen the ways. We have made mistakes.

But we've also seen the truth of our nation in those periods. The ideals that we profess since our founding, the ideals that generations of Americans have tried to make more real, more perfect, more established in this nation, we see in the history how generations past, black, white, Christian, Jewish, folks from all different backgrounds, men and women stood up and did the right thing. They were insistent that this nation should be different. But we're not founded in a country because we all pray alike or because we all look alike or because we all have the same race.

No. We have always were different. That we would be a nation of ideals, values, that we would be a nation different than the racial and religious divides that divide men and women but that we would have ideals and we would be a light on to nations. we've seen this nation do it right, live up to those ideals.

With Hungarian refugees, Cuban refugees, Chinese refugees, Haitian refugees, all fled and found a safe haven here in the United States of America. Look at the waves of Irish coming to our shores, escaping famine. Look at the waves of folks who have escaped oppression when we were at our best, we were a light on to nations of hope, of integrity, of honesty, of honor. we are a nation of refugees.

We're a nation of immigrants. We're a nation of exiles. We're a nation of ancestors of former slaves.

And we're not our particularistic parts. we're profound some of those parts. We're -- we made mistakes, but we have answered the question of who we are by showing our values.

That's why the United States has become known throughout the planet Earth as that beacon of light and hope. I've traveled around the globe with the privileges of Senator and I see the way people look at this country. I see the way that people try to model their behavior after ours.

I see the way how we talk about Democratic ideals, Democratic principles, how we try to talk about human rights, how we talk about human decency, how we're held up as the model. And this is why Americans from across the aisle, across religions, across political affiliations, from across the country are speaking out. I've seen conservative, Christian evangelicals, conservative Catholics, Republican colleagues of mine stand up and speak about the truth that this behavior is un-American, speak with conviction telling the one man who has the immediate power to change, the one man who did this to stop his actions, to restore honor, to correct this wrong.

I'm proud to see Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives speaking out against the moral vandalism that's not just degrading the dignity and humanity of the migrants at our border but assaulting the dignity and humanity of America. The people of this country speaking out in one voice, one people, understanding that we have one destiny, understand that we share common values, and understanding that this is a time where you can't be silent. The opposite of justice is not injustice. It often is inaction.

It's silence. It's apathy. It's indifference. So we must call on our President to end this. And if he refuses, then we have an obligation here in Congress. We have the power.

We can and must act to stop this inhumane, immoral, an un-American practice. we could vote today on a bill, the keeping families together act which has the support of 47 Democratic Senators and two independents, 49 members of this body that would prohibit the Department of Homeland Security from separating children from their parents unless there are extraordinary circumstances. The bill is common sense.

It is a moderate proposal. It is literally the least that Congress can do to prevent this crisis from continuing. Yes, we need to secure our borders.

Yes, we need to uphold our just laws. But separating and imprisoning children and families is not how we do that. We need to protect our borders, but we need also to reflect our values, to protect our values, to affirm the character of this country. We need to protect and secure the ideals of a nation that we have all stood for. And in the moral -- this moral moment in our nation's history, that means protecting and standing up for the dignity and the humanity of these children. I say again, future generations will look back at this moment, at this crisis of conscience, and they will see what has already happened, and they will see this as a low moment and they will wonder what we did during this time.

History does have its eyes on us , but we have a chance right now to show them what we did, to let them see that when our morals have been tested, how we responded. They will look to see what people in this country did when people were having their values violated and their ideals and the dignity of their children and families assaulted. They'll look to see what we did.

They'll look to see if we were silent or if we speak up, if we're indifferent or do we act. Do we indulge in apathy or have we become activists? They'll look to see whether we fought for the ideals that made this nation who I believe we are, which is as Elijah called for the state of Israel to be a light on to nations.

That's the America I believe in. That's the America I know. We look back on the lows of when women were being denied the right to vote, and we saw a multiracial, multiethnic coalition.

Every from Frederick Douglass to Susan B. Anthony that came together and women were granted the right to vote. we look back at the low of segregation, how a multiracial coalition of Americans came together, worked together, fought together, stood together, sacrificed together, some died together to advance the cause of civil rights. We look back to the Japanese internment and we see how people, regardless of their backgrounds in America, regardless of their political parties, came together to redress this wrong.

And in 1988 we saw a Republican President, Ronald Reagan who responded by signing the civil liberties act into law and working to right the wrong of Japanese internment. Future generations will look back on this moment. They will look to see whether we affirmed that in America we don't injure and imprison children.

We protect them. They will look back to see that in America we don't abuse rights. We protect them.

They will look back at America to see if we are called to be a nation truly that works to defend human rights at home and abroad, not violate them in our own backyard. This isn't an injustice that needs to take decades, years, or even months to correct. President Trump must, can, and should end this immoral policy today.

And if he refuses to act, this body will be judged. Congress can vote today on the keeping families together act, and we must act. We must do something.

We must stand for something. Or the dignity and the humanity that will be assaulted will not be those of children on our border. It will be the damage to the dignity and humanity of us all.

For the sake of our nation, I urge my colleagues to act.