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In recent years, we've heard a lot of the argument that "If we don't have borders, we don't have a country." President Donald Trump has favored that line, as have more than a few others. And we get it. Securing the border is a critical component of what the national government needs to do on a daily basis.

What is happening on our southern border today, however, is something different than drawing a hard line at the border's edge. The government of the United States, under the Trump administration, has instituted a "zero-tolerance" policy that is forcing a fundamental question to the forefront of our national debate: Who are we as a people, and who do we want to be?

The policy itself is straightforward. The administration is charging each person arrested for trying to enter the country illegally with a crime. In effect, this charge forces the government to separate children from their parents, if they are traveling together. As the parents head off to jail to deal with the charge against them, the children are placed in a federal program for several weeks while relatives or other adults are located to take custody of them.

Hence the images creeping back to us from along the border of distraught children suddenly facing the possibility of being separated from their parents.

We'll grant that the facilities the government is now scrambling to make available for these children (the administration has reportedly looked high and low for new places to put them, including military bases) are not as bad as many might have feared. But we'll also contend that this isn't good for our country, nor is it going to end well.

A long list of leaders are stepping forward in opposition. This includes Republicans, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Will Hurd, whose district encompasses 800 miles of the southern border. It also includes Democrats Beto O'Rourke, Clay Jenkins and former President Bill Clinton, who have all spoken out against the policy. Remarkably, some of Trump's most ardent supporters, including the Rev. Franklin Graham and Anthony Scaramucci, blasted the policy, with the latter calling it "inhumane."

Former first lady Laura Bush also weighed in with a piece calling the policy "cruel" and "immoral." She said it breaks her heart to see how our country has decided to treat these kids.

If her comments shook the political world (and they did), it is because she appealed to what one former president once called the better angels of our nature. In referencing her mother-in-law's willingness to hold and cherish a baby who happened to be HIV positive at a time when there was a panic underway in regard to that disease, Bush reminded the country of the importance of compassion. She reminded us all that it matters how our country treats children; it matters if we allow our society to become so hardhearted that we forget that people are caught in the fray.

That reminder resonates across the country and will provide cover for those who stand with her. We can be strong on the border and compassionate at the same time.

The Dallas Morning News. June 18

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