Weaponizing Children


Clare Huntington was quoted in a New Republic article about the plight of immigrant children under the Trump administration.

In 1977, the public school system of Tyler, Texas, a small city 100 miles southeast of Dallas, began expelling students who couldn’t prove they were in the United States legally. The state had passed a law cutting off educational funding for undocumented children, and for Lidia and José Lopez, migrants from Mexico, it meant that their children had to leave their local public school. To reenroll them, they were told they’d have to pay a fee of $1,000 per child, more than the family could afford from their jobs harvesting roses for Tyler’s flower nurseries.

The Lopez family, and three other undocumented families, sued the district, as well as its superintendent, James Plyler. (Worried they’d be deported, the Lopezes showed up to their first hearing in a car packed with their possessions.) Five years later, the suit reached the Supreme Court, which ruled that the states could not deny undocumented children the right to a free public education. In the majority decision, Justice William Brennan wrote that the Texas law punished children for actions taken by their parents. This, he said, did not “comport with fundamental conceptions of justice.”

Those conceptions no longer seem to hold under President Donald Trump.

“Back in 1982, when Ronald Reagan was in office—not exactly a time of government largesse—we still drew certain lines,” said Clare Huntington, a professor of family and poverty law at Fordham University. “There was an understanding at the time that certain things were off the table.” No longer. This is more than a vague erosion of “norms.” It’s a consistent tactic within the administration. Donald Trump, perhaps more than any other president in modern American history, has made children fair game.

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