By LEO LOPEZ III, MD
I’m a physician, born in McAllen, Texas. In June 2018, I returned home to demand that immigrant children who had been torn from their families as a result of the Trump Administration’s zero-tolerance policy, be safely and immediately reunited. I demonstrated at a federal detention center in McAllen at the Free the Children Protest. I marched alongside other concerned citizens, and we confronted a bus carrying the children.
With my palms pressed against the bus, I demanded that the government free them. I could not have imagined that just a few months later, I’d demand that the government find them.
Back then, the Office and Refugee and Resettlement had just certified that over 2,600 children had been separated from their families.
The Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services recently released an updated account. They actually weren’t sure how many children were separated. Turns out they didn’t count them. According to the report, HHS doesn’t know exactly if, when, or how they’ll find the lost children.
I grew up right there, along the south-Texas border, and I know that cattle are better accounted for than these infants and children.
So whose fault is it? In my opinion, the blame falls on Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen, both of whom are ultimately responsible for executing the President’s policy agenda through their respective departments. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) systematically separated families. The Department of Health and Human Services failed to identify the children who were separated.
To me, our moral duty is clear. We must demand that the secretaries resign immediately.
When former Health and Human Services Secretary, Tom Price, was found to have inappropriately used private jets and military aircraft for travel, he was forced to resign. We found his misappropriation of jet fuel morally reprehensible. And yet, Secretary Azar and Secretary Nielsen lost thousands of children and are still unpunished and fully employed.
The haunting silhouette of children staring back at me through the tinted glass windows of the bus is etched in my memory. I grew up with kids like them. But there are Americans who are less sentimental. I know that there are members of my community who support the zero tolerance policy and would likely resist calls for the resignation of those who implemented it.
But in this case, the justification to call for resignation seems simple and non-partisan:
If you lose a child, you lose your job.
Leo Lopez III, MD is a fellow at the National Clinician Scholars Program of Yale University.