Rep. Cummings cries for the children locked in cages: 'We are better than that!' - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Rep. Cummings cries for the children locked in cages: ‘We are better than that!’

BALTIMORE — We’ve seen Rep. Elijah Cummings in full emotional outcry before this. He was there, in the streets of his West Baltimore home district, in the televised riots that followed the death of Freddie Grey a few years ago, when tears ran down Cummings’ face and he begged America to understand the plight of young and impoverished black men.

And now we see him pleading for some sense of humanity over the lives of young immigrant children, frightened and weeping, separated from their parents over America’s “zero tolerance” at the U.S. border.

Cummings is man whose conscience is always on full alert. His father and his mother both preached the gospel. If Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, wants to justify cruelty to children by quoting scripture, he’s up against the wrong man in Elijah Cummings.

On Tuesday, Cummings gave everybody a full display of his conscience in action. At the House Oversight Committee hearing where Republicans intended to examine Hillary Clinton’s emails with Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, Cummings declared all of this a political charade. He went right to the kids.

He asked Republicans to “stand up” and reject “this mean policy” in which roughly 2,000 children have now been separated from their parents and many have been placed in holding areas resembling prison cells, or animal cages.

And he was just getting started.

“Even if you believe immigration should be halted entirely,” he said, “we all should be able to agree that in the United States of America, we will not intentionally separate children from their parents. We will not do that. We are better than that. We are so much better. We should be able to agree that we will not keep kids in child internment camps indefinitely and hidden away from public view. What country is that? This is the United States of America.”

If the last sentence sounded obvious, Cummings was telling us that it was not. He was saying the country has lost its way, has lost its sense of self as the big-hearted, open-armed embracer of the world’s most vulnerable souls.

Cummings knows such people. He grew up among them, and still lives among them. In his West Baltimore home district, the poverty and the human vulnerability are widespread.

Three years ago, at the time of the Freddie Grey riots, roughly 40 percent of West Baltimore children were living beneath the poverty line. Nearly 90 percent of the area’s school children qualified for free lunch at school.

The plight of such children is mirrored in the rough lives of their parents. Across Maryland, the median household income three years ago was $73,000. Across West Baltimore, it was $29,000.

Little has changed since the Freddie Gray riots – and nothing has changed Elijah Cummings’ sense of outrage.

But America has changed. When it comes to those seeking asylum here, the country’s official conscience has changed. Once, we had a policy where illegal immigrants were deported, but they weren’t criminally charged – and they weren’t separated from their children.

This “zero tolerance” business is the new world of Attorney General Sessions – and President Donald Trump, in which children are made to weep so that Trump can turn them into bargaining chips for a southern wall to keep others from entering America.

And this is what set off Cummings’ outcry on Tuesday.

“We now have reports of parents being deported,” Cummings said, “but the Trump administration is keeping their children here – 2018 in America. We do not need legislation. This is a policy. And understand this: this was a policy invented, implemented and executed by President Donald Trump.”

There were tears in Cummings’ eyes as he spoke the words. They were joined to the tears of children in cages, which now become a river.


About the author

Michael Olesker

Michael Olesker, columnist for the News American, Baltimore Sun, and Baltimore Examiner has spent a quarter of a century writing about the city he loves.He is the author of five previous books, including Michael Olesker's Baltimore: If You Live Here, You're Home, Journeys to the Heart of Baltimore, and The Colts' Baltimore: A City and Its Love Affair in the 1950s, all published by Johns Hopkins. Contact the author.
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