'It is immoral': Former first lady Laura Bush criticizes the separation of migrant children from their parents

  • Former first lady Laura Bush has criticized the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy that has seen nearly 2,000 children separated from their parents in two months.
  • Bush, who rarely speaks out on politics, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post on Sunday.
  • The wife of former president George W. Bush called the policy "cruel," "immoral," and said it "breaks my heart."
  • Bush said the policy is reminiscent of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II which is now considered "one of the most shameful episodes in US history."


Former US first lady Laura Bush rarely speaks out on political issues but on Sunday she openly criticized the Trump administration's separation of children from their parents along the border.

In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a "zero tolerance" policy towards migrants crossing the US border illegally, which leads to adults being tried as criminals and thus losing custody of their children. In that time, nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their parents leading to crowded facilities and devastating scenes.

In an op-ed published Sunday in The Washington Post, Laura Bush said the policy "breaks my heart."

"The reason for these separations is a zero-tolerance policy for their parents, who are accused of illegally crossing our borders. 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," Bush wrote.

"Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso."

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US First Lady Michelle Obama (L) and former First Lady Laura Bush host 'Investing in Our Future' at the US - Africa Leaders Summit at the Kennedy Center August 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. The day-long symposium will bring together First Lady Michelle Obama, Mrs. Laura Bush, African first spouses from nearly 30 countries, leaders from non-governmental and non-profit organizations, private sector partners, and other leading experts.The symposium will highlight the important role first spouses play and will focus on the impact of investments in education, health, and economic development through public-private partnerships. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - APRIL 25: (L-R) U.S. first lady Michelle Obama; President Barack Obama, former first lady Barbara Bush, former President George H.W. Bush, former President George W. Bush and his wife former first lady Laura Bush attend the opening ceremony of the George W. Bush Presidential Center April 25, 2013 in Dallas, Texas. The Bush library, which is located on the campus of Southern Methodist University, with more than 70 million pages of paper records, 43,000 artifacts, 200 million emails and four million digital photographs, will be opened to the public on May 1, 2013. The library is the 13th presidential library in the National Archives and Records Administration system. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US First Lady Michelle Obama (R) and former US First Lady Laura Bush participate in the African First Ladies Summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on July 2, 2013. AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Michelle Obama (L) and former First Lady Laura Bush host 'Investing in Our Future' at the US - Africa Leaders Summit at the Kennedy Center August 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. The day-long symposium will bring together First Lady Michelle Obama, Mrs. Laura Bush, African first spouses from nearly 30 countries, leaders from non-governmental and non-profit organizations, private sector partners, and other leading experts.The symposium will highlight the important role first spouses play and will focus on the impact of investments in education, health, and economic development through public-private partnerships. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Michelle Obama (L) and former First Lady Laura Bush host 'Investing in Our Future' at the US - Africa Leaders Summit at the Kennedy Center August 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. The day-long symposium will bring together First Lady Michelle Obama, Mrs. Laura Bush, African first spouses from nearly 30 countries, leaders from non-governmental and non-profit organizations, private sector partners, and other leading experts.The symposium will highlight the important role first spouses play and will focus on the impact of investments in education, health, and economic development through public-private partnerships. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Michelle Obama (R) and former US First Lady Laura Bush greet each other on July 2, 2013 as they arrive at the African First Ladies Summit in Dar es Salaam. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 6: Former first lady Laura Bush (C), U.S. first lady Michelle Obama (L) and journalist Cokie Roberts participate in a Spousal Symposium at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on August 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. The symposium, sponsored by first lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush, focuses on the role the spouses of world leader's play and the impact of investments in education, health, and economic development through public-private partnerships. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 6: Former first lady Laura Bush (C) and U.S. first lady Michelle Obama (L) attend a Spousal Symposium at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on August 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. The symposium, sponsored by first lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush, focuses on the role the spouses of world leader's play and the impact of investments in education, health, and economic development through public-private partnerships. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 6: Former U.S. President George W. Bush sits with the spouses of African leaders at a Spousal Symposium at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on August 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. The symposium, sponsored by first lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush, focuses on the role the spouses of world leader's play and the impact of investments in education, health, and economic development through public-private partnerships. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
US first lady Michelle Obama (R) and former US first lady Laura Bush wait back stage before a panel discussion 'Investing in Our Future' at the US-Africa Leaders Summit at the Kennedy Center August 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. Michelle Obama and Laura Bush were joined by others to discuss women's issues and advancement in Africa. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Michelle Obama (R) and former US First Lady Laura Bush participate in the African First Ladies Summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on July 2, 2013. AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 6: Former first lady Laura Bush participates in a Spousal Symposium at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on August 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. The symposium, sponsored by first lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush, focuses on the role the spouses of world leader's play and the impact of investments in education, health, and economic development through public-private partnerships. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - APRIL 10: First Lady Laura Bush (C) greets the Rev. Jesse Jackson as she takes her seat to listen to her husband former President George W. Bush address a private gathering in the LBJ Library Atrium on April 10, 2014 in Austin, Texas. The summit is marking the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Civil Rights Act legislation, with U.S. President Barack Obama making the keynote speech on April 10. (Photo by Ralph Barrera-Pool/Getty Images)
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Bush then said the detention facilities being used to house thousands of children are "eerily reminiscent" of the internment camps that held 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II, and are "now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history."

Bush highlighted how this internment affects individuals mentally and physically. Japanese Americans who were interned, half of whom were children, are now more than twice as likely to suffer cardiovascular disease and even die prematurely.

Separating children from caregivers can also cause irreversible harm that affects a child's ability to cope and self-soothe, which can lead to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

"Americans pride ourselves on being a moral nation, on being the nation that sends humanitarian relief to places devastated by natural disasters or famine or war. We pride ourselves on believing that people should be seen for the content of their character, not the color of their skin. We pride ourselves on acceptance. If we are truly that country, then it is our obligation to reunite these detained children with their parents — and to stop separating parents and children in the first place," Bush wrote.

After describing how some staff at detention centers have reportedly been ordered to not touch or comfort children, the former first lady also recalled the time in 1989 her mother-in-law and then-first lady Barbara Bush picked up and soothed a dying baby in a home for children with HIV/AIDS.

"She simply saw it as the right thing to do in a world that can be arbitrary, unkind and even cruel. She, who after the death of her 3-year-old daughter knew what it was to lose a child, believed that every child is deserving of human kindness, compassion and love," she wrote.

"People on all sides agree that our immigration system isn’t working, but the injustice of zero tolerance is not the answer," she added. "In 2018, can we not as a nation find a kinder, more compassionate and more moral answer to this current crisis? I, for one, believe we can."

Read Laura Bush's full op-ed in The Washington Post here.

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