Catherine Rampell: We’re in the midst of Trump’s War on Children

You’ve heard of the Wars on Drugs, Terror, Poverty, even Women. Well, welcome to the War on Children.

It's being waged by the Trump administration and other right-wing public officials, regardless of any claimed "family values."

For evidence, look no further than the report released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services' own inspector general. It details the trauma suffered by immigrant children separated from their parents under the Trump administration's evil "zero tolerance" policy.

Thousands of children were placed in overcrowded centers ill-equipped to provide care for them physically or psychologically. Visits to 45 centers around the country resulted in accounts of children who cried inconsolably; who were drugged; who were promised family reunifications that never came; whose severe emotional distress manifested in phantom chest pains, with complaints that "every heartbeat hurts"; who thought their parents had abandoned them or had been murdered.

Such state-sanctioned child abuse was designed to serve as a "deterrent" for asylum-seeking families, as then-Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and other administration officials made clear.

Of course, they failed to recognize just how horrific are the conditions these asylum-seeking children are fleeing — conditions that further decreased HHS’ ability to adequately care for them.

"Staff in multiple facilities reported cases of children who had been kidnapped or raped" back in their home countries, the IG report states. Other children witnessed family members raped or murdered.

But hey, Trump believes these kiddos must be punished further for the crime of seeking refuge — aka, the "invasion" of America.

This is hardly the only way the administration has knowingly enacted policies that harm children.

In August, it finalized a rule that would make it more difficult for immigrants to receive green cards if they have used certain safety-net services they're legally entitled to — or if government officials suspect they might ever use such services. Confusion and fear about the policy and whom it affects abound. This has already created a "chilling effect" for usage of social services, with immigrant parents disenrolling even their U.S.-citizen children just to be safe.

Last fall, for instance, I interviewed a green-card-holding mother who decided not to enroll her underweight newborn in a program that would have provided free formula (even though the program in question was not mentioned in the rule, and the baby is a U.S. citizen). Huge recent declines in children's Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program enrollment are also believed to be at least partly a result of fears about this policy change.

And lest you think only immigrant or brown children are being targeted in this war: U.S. servicemembers' children, of all sorts of backgrounds, are being hurt, too.

The Trump administration is siphoning billions from various defense projects to fund border wall construction, despite promises that Mexico would pay for it. This might sound unlikely to affect kids, but somehow the Trump administration found a way. Among the projects losing funds are schools for the children of U.S. servicemembers based in Kentucky, Germany and Japan, and a child-care center at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.

Trump's proposed federal budgets have likewise axed funding for other programs that serve children, such as subsidized school meals and Medicaid. Indeed, both federal and state GOP officials more broadly are still working to kill the Medicaid expansion, as well as other Affordable Care Act provisions that benefit kids.

The GOP has likewise ignored the pleas of children who want their lives protected from gun violence, or who want their futures protected from a warming planet.

A year ago, I offered a suggestion: that Democrats make children the theme of their midterm campaign. They mostly ignored me and still did OK. Nonetheless, I'm re-upping it.

Because even without Trump's baby jails and proposed Medicaid cuts, our country's emphasis on children's well-being is seriously deficient.

Last year, for the first time on record, we spent a greater share of the federal budget servicing the national debt than we did on children, according to an analysis out next week from First Focus on Children. Spending on children as a share of the federal budget is also expected to shrink over the coming decade, crowded out by both debt service and spending on the elderly.

This is despite the fact that spending on children (especially low-income children) has among the highest returns on investment of any form of government spending.

Whatever the opposite of Trump's War on Children is, that's what Democrats should be running on.

Catherine Rampell

Catherine Rampell’s email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.