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It is appalling beyond words that the United States has implemented a policy of separating the children of illegal immigrants from their parents.

It is cruel. It is inhumane. And it appears to have a crass political motive. As such, it amounts in moral terms to little better than kidnapping.

On Monday, President Donald Trump falsely claimed once again that the separations were forced on his government by law. They could only end, he said, again falsely, if the Democrats agreed to his immigration bill, which includes the construction of his notorious southern border wall.

This is pure fiction. Mr. Trump could end the separations tomorrow. He just doesn’t want to.

The fact is, his administration has been toying with this cruel idea for more than a year. John Kelly, now the White House chief of staff, said in an interview in March of 2017, when he was secretary of Homeland Security, that he was considering family separations as a deterrent to illegal immigration at the Mexican border.

Mr. Kelly is also on the record in 2015, when he was head of U.S. Southern Command, as saying families were fleeing Central American countries to escape the drug-related gang violence in their countries.

“In many ways [parents] are trying to save their children,” he is quoted as saying.

And now, suddenly as of this month, it is official U.S. policy to deny asylum to desperate families escaping gang violence and to use their children against them as a deterrent to illegal entry, not to mention as pawns in the President’s efforts to wall off the border.

In a growing number of cases, parents have been deported home while their children have been held back in the U.S., according to immigration lawyers who are trying to help them. The anguished parents have no idea when, or even if, they will see their children again.

To date, close to 2,000 children have been taken from their parents and thrown into a disorganized system that could keep them separated from their families for months.

There is no greater pain for a parent than to be forcibly separated from their child. For the children – alone, confused and scared – it is torture to be held in foreign detention centres with no understanding of why they can’t see their mothers and fathers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has condemned the policy as “government-sanctioned child abuse.” The American College of Physicians and the American Psychiatric Association have also weighed in against it.

But it’s worse than that. The fact the children are being held hostage to Mr. Trump’s nationalistic anti-immigration agenda mutates this legalized child abuse into a case of politically motivated cruelty targeting a vulnerable group.

Other Western countries dealing with illegal immigration, Canada included, have been able to do so without resorting to cruel and polarizing tactics. This should be frightening to anyone who worries about the direction in which Mr. Trump is taking his country.

These days, a week doesn’t go by that the President doesn’t attack or insult the leaders of democratic countries, while flattering those of oppressive regimes.

Over the weekend, he spoke by phone with Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister infamous for his anti-immigration rhetoric and autocratic rule, and congratulated him for his tainted election victory in April.

He also recently praised Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s perversely cruel dictator, as “talented.” And we know how he admires Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Democratic countries, on the other hand, he insults. Canadians know this well. On Monday, he set his sights on Germany, falsely claiming that crime there has risen because of the influx of migrants, when in fact the crime rate has fallen.

“Big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!” he added, a dangerous lie that gives oxygen to Europe’s far-right parties.

No one yet knows how far Mr. Trump will go in his effort to demonize immigrants in the name of protecting a “culture.” But his willingness to harm vulnerable children is a good indication that he is only getting started.

Canada and its allies must denounce this American tragedy. The past echoes too loudly in it to look away.

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