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Separating migrant families has never looked good on the United States, and over the past week things have gotten even uglier. After a recent tour of a Border Patrol facility holding a reported 300 children in Clint, Tex., a group of lawyers was so disturbed that some spoke to media about what they saw, despite a continuing court case about conditions there.

They described a nightmare scenario. There were children caked in mucus and babies defecating in their pants. Eight-year-olds were caring for infants, while one teen mother was recovering from a C-section while attending to a filthy, premature newborn. By law, children are only supposed to be at the centre for 72 hours, but many had been there for weeks. And this warehousing of migrant minors has continued even though at least six of them died in U.S. custody between September, 2018, and May, 2019.

The situation is so unimaginably awful that the entire United States can seem unimaginably awful by extension. To prove that untrue, Americans should act as though the whole world is watching. Because it is, and the humanity of their entire country is at stake.

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Those involved in running these places seem like robots or monsters, certainly not humans. Guards watching the children carry weapons and wear face masks, because of the smell and rampant illness. U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that those tasked with caring for the minors are doing a “fantastic job.”

That no longer includes the head of the Customs and Border Protection agency, John Sanders, who resigned that same day after less than three months on the job. U.S. Justice Department lawyer Sarah Fabian, though, is still on the team. She’s the one seen in a viral video arguing that the legal requirement to provide “safe and sanitary” housing doesn’t mean migrant children are entitled to toothbrushes, soap, blankets or even a place to sleep.

As of Wednesday morning, both the Democrat-controlled Congress and the Republican-controlled Senate had drawn up multibillion-dollar emergency border aid bills. Congress wants the money limited to humanitarian aid, not further immigration raids or a wall along the border, but if the Senate doesn’t reject those restrictions, Mr. Trump can use his veto power to do so.

Such cold-blooded immorality can’t be met with soft solutions. That’s an important lesson being learned by people with good intentions, who have been showing up at Border Patrol facilities this week carrying diapers, toiletries, clothing and toys, and were met with locked doors, or turned away.

The answer here is not to make what’s essentially prison for children more comfy. What’s needed is widespread, unrelenting insistence that no babies – no people – be put in these terrible conditions at all.

That could involve personal risk. Some Americans have already faced legal consequences for helping migrants. In May, Texas attorney Teresa Todd was detained by Border Patrol for three hours, some of it in a holding cell, after inviting starving, dehydrated young people into her car to warm up.

Tucson teacher Scott Warren received three felony charges for giving migrants food, water and clean clothes. Jurors declared a mistrial in his case two weeks ago. But if one goal of such harsh reactions is to scare others away, employees of the Massachusetts-based decor retailer Wayfair haven’t been deterred.

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On Tuesday, social-media accounts for a group called Wayfair Walkout stated that 547 employees had signed a letter requesting the company no longer sell beds meant for immigration detention centres. After being turned down by management, they planned to walk off the job on Wednesday afternoon. Along with refusing future contracts, the Wayfair employees want profit already made to be donated to RAICES Texas, an immigrant legal service scrambling to teach migrants their rights, help assert them and reunite families.

Donations to RAICES, and other essential non-profits, was one suggestion made by The New York Times’ editorial board on Monday, when it made the bold move of outright telling readers to take action, and giving specific instructions. Another was to show up in person, at a planned nationwide vigil on July 12.

That’s being organized by Lights for Liberty, which calls itself “a coalition of people, many of whom are mothers.” I get it. For more than a year, tucking my kindergartner into bed has occasionally invoked an image of him lying alone and dirty on cold concrete.

More than a hundred planned vigil locations were listed last I looked. The time is now: Americans who consider themselves good people, who say they want this atrocity to end, are being challenged to prove it.

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