The greatness of a country can be measured by the manner in which it provides for the most vulnerable among its people, especially the children born into poverty.
By that standard, several countries including New Zealand have been falling short for some time.
When it comes to those who request asylum of a country — safety from persecution — there exists a special obligation recognised under international law, to treat such claimants and their families with particular discretion.
Instead of following international norms and the better parts of its own history, US President Trump has ordered the detention of refugee asylum seekers arriving at its Mexican border, criminally charging them for illegal entry, and separating them from their children. Since May 2500 children have been removed from parents.
The legitimacy of asylum claims can be open to question. However, these immigrants subject to family separation are not economic migrants, nor, unlike in Europe, are they a threat of returned ISIS fighters.
They're not coming directly from Mexico, which has seen a net negative migration since 2014. Rather, these families are coming from Central America, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, where they're trying to escape social disorder and drug-related gang violence.
The governments of those countries bear ultimate responsibility for the chaos, but the United States has also made a significant contribution.
The over-zealous anti-communism of Kissinger along with Ronald Reagan permitted the atrocities of the 1980s and the conversion of drug thug "Contras" into saintly "freedom fighters" in the spirit of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend".
Those "friends" have forced ordinary citizens to flee their home countries, and — along with their children, — trek 1000 miles of Mexico in the hope of safety in "the promised land", Reagan's "City On A Hill."
Trump, sensing a coming firestorm of disapproval, seeks to reassure his flock by claiming falsely that he is the victim of policies created by Democrats.
In fact, he could end this disgrace with a few strokes of his shark's teeth signature.
Meantime, he is enabled by his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who unashamedly chooses the biblical verse Romans:13, 1-7 to defend obedience to authority and thus rationalise the inhumanity of the policy with a Pauline doctrine often used in the past to defend slavery.
The actual architect of this evil is Trump's senior political adviser, Stephen Miller.
Miller, who also authored the first Muslim ban, wrote the "Zero Tolerance" policy that authorises Sessions' agents to arrest and detain asylum seekers for their illegal entry,
contrary to international law. The parents' detention leaves the children "unaccompanied aliens" and subject to removal to foster care or wherever. It's designed to deter asylum seekers.
As if insufficient ironies exist herein, Stephen Miller is the grandson of Jews who fled persecution in Tsarist Russia to come to the US in the early 20th century. Those forbears would be turning over in their graves at this travesty of justice coming from their descendant's hand.
The moral imperative posed by the barbarism of Trump's family separation policy is clear cut. Some major religious groups are meeting it by their condemnation.
The US Council of Catholic Bishops has strongly urged reversal of the policy as has the Reform Jewish Confederation. Even some evangelicals like Trump supporter Franklin Graham, have spoken out against it. Significantly silent have been those right-wing groups, Catholic and protestant, calling themselves Right-to-Life or Family Research Council, or Focus On Family.
These latter groups, staunchly anti-abortion and anti-gay rights have appropriated the words "family values" to lend credence to their causes. Those words ring hollow in the present crisis.
New Zealand needs to take a stand here. In addition to a formal government protest, this government, which offered to take 150 refugee seekers from Manu and Nauru, should extend a similar offer to take 150 complete Central American families from the US. Big-heartedness and love is the best antidote for spiteful hatred.
Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable