By Glenn Fleishman
June 18, 2018

It’s unanimous: The five living former and present first ladies have all weighed in on the issue of separating children from families arriving without documentation for entry at the U.S. border, whether invoking asylum or otherwise. And all five women oppose it to varying degrees.

Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, in her role from 1977 to 1981, was the final one to voice her opinion when she released a statement on Monday that recalled her experience with Cambodian refugees fleeing to Thailand. She said, “The practice and policy today of removing children from their parents’ care at our border with Mexico is disgraceful and a shame to our country.”

While the First Lady role has no basis in the Constitution, the position has often led its holder to have a special moral authority above partisan politics. In general, First Ladies speak out only occasionally about heated topics, but, in this case, they have all gone out of their way to share their views.

Laura Bush, wife to George W. Bush, got the ball rolling among First Ladies when she wrote in an Op-Ed at the Washington Post on Sunday that quickly careened around the Internet. “I live in a border state,” she said. “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.”

First Lady Michelle Obama later linked to Laura Bush’s essay on Twitter with the note, “Sometimes truth transcends party.” Michelle Obama had seemingly struck up a strange-bedfellows’ friendship with the Bushes at a variety of events that brought presidents and wives together.

During a speech on Monday at an awards ceremony for the Women’s Forum of New York, Hillary Clinton said: “What’s happening to families at the border right now is a humanitarian crisis. Every parent who has ever held a child in their arms, every human being with a sense of compassion and decency, should be outraged.” She repeated this in a tweet.

The current holder of the unofficial position, Melania Trump, also released a mild rebuke from her office that said, “Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform.”

The Trump administration’s policy to separate families is not required under law, but rather, according to officials, is used as leverage to deter entrance into the country. This policy has swept in those entering in violation of the law without permission and those legally seeking asylum. President Trump and other officials have also stated they are using separation to apply pressure for an immigration reform bill that includes provisions they favor, such as funding for additional and larger areas of wall on the Mexican border.

While Barbara Bush passed away on April 17, 2018, her daughter-in-law Laura Bush noted the elder bush’s embrace of a child dying of HIV/AIDS in Washington, D.C. Laura Bush wrote, “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.”

 

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