On Friday of last week, Vice President Mike Pence visited two migrant detention centers near McAllen, Texas. On Twitter, he posted photos of himself interacting with staffers and looking empathetically at interned migrants who were shown unable to sit due to overcrowding, without beds or a place to sleep. He went on to call out CNN for focusing on “one side of the story” — namely the side on which 24 migrants have perished under the care of United States officials.
The backlash to the Pence media tour was swift. Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro pointed out that the situation at the border is in part a product of the Trump administration slashing aid to Central America and refusing to observe norms around the asylum process. Senator Ed Markey called the detention facilities a national disgrace. But the most trenchant critique of Pence’s strategic naivete are the statements of fact about the treatment of children.
- Government officials separated 18 infants under the age of 2 from their parents.
- Those same infants were kept from their parents anywhere from 20 days to six months.
- Some 700 kids were kept from their parents for 36 to 75 days.
- Many kids were separated from their parents even when their parents weren’t prosecuted for crossing the border.
Pence is, as he likes to remind people, a father and a big reader of a book that contains the following sentence: “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Still, anyone who is surprised by the callous convenience of the vice president’s take on the border crisis has not been paying attention. As a congressman, as governor of Indiana, and as vice president of the United States, Pence has always prioritized conservative ideology over the well-being of kids. He has supported policies known to have adverse effects on children in the name of both religion and in service of his own career.
The VP’s visit to the border seems less farcical and incendiary when it is placed in the context of the man’s record. Mike Pence has always been willing to inflict pain and distress on children for political ends. This is nothing new. Here is just a brief history of Mike Pence advocating against the health and wellness of children.
- Mike Pence Tries to Shame Mothers Out of the Workforce
In 1997, Pence wrote a letter to the editor of the Indianapolis Star. In it, he took issue with working mothers. Misreading a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study that found that children with babysitters and nannies were less affectionate toward their moms, Pence claimed that working mothers were harming their children. In actuality, having an empowered working mother has been demonstrated to have tremendous benefits for kids — and many working mothers (and fathers) are forced into office life due to economic need. Given his passion for the subject, one would surmise that Pence spent the next decade working hard to eliminate work requirements from welfare programs. That did not happen. Pence supports a work requirement for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Programs and other welfare programs that overwhelmingly benefit single moms. This means that even by his own highly questionable logic, he’s advocating against the well-being of children.
- Mike Pence Ignores the Department of Child Services
Mike Pence was governor of Indiana from 2013 to 2017. The year before Pence took office, only 34 children in Indiana had died of abuse or neglect. When Pence was elected, he appointed Mary Beth Bonaventura as the DCS director and made cuts. In 2013, 49 children died, in 2014, 66. Bonaventura resigned from her position in 2017 and blasted Pence for cutting her budget and the services to needy kids in the midst of the opioid crisis. Pence responded by blaming the opioid crisis — no, following that logic isn’t possible — until he was finally persuaded to restore some funding during his last year in office. Lo and behold, the number of dead children went down. Unfortunately, the children who died while Pence bragged about cutting the DCS budget remain dead.
- Mike Pence Supports Conversion Therapy
Mike Pence has long signaled support for “conversion therapy” in the state of Indiana. Conversion therapy, a scam that turns the bullying of homosexual children into a business, does not work and constitutes abuse (those who have been in conversion therapy are five times more likely to attempt suicide than those who have not). The American Medical Association condemns conversion therapy as a practice “that has been rejected by all the major mental health professions.” Still, in 2000, addressing a federal law that funds assistance to HIV-positive and AIDs patients in the United States, Mike Pence wrote: “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” That’s a dog whistle. Today, conversion therapy remains legal in Indiana.
- Mike Pence Rallies Against Sexual Education
The Trump administration devoted $277 million in the 2018 federal budget to programs that prioritize “abstinence education and personal responsibility education.” That is money that could have otherwise gone to actual education if not comprehensive sexual education, which has actually been shown to decrease rates of STDs and pregnancy for young teens. Countless studies have confirmed that abstinence education is associated with high teen pregnancy rates, but Pence doesn’t care about facts. In 2002, he said that condoms are a “poor protection against sexually transmitted diseases.” Condoms are 98 percent effective at protecting against most STIs and STDs.
- Mike Pence Stands by His Wife, Who Works at a Bigoted School
Karen “Mother” Pence teaches at Immanuel Christian School in Virginia. The school bans both LGBTQ+ parents and students from attendance. Even employees cannot be lesbian or gay. A term of employment requires that employees understand that the only correct definition of marriage is that which is between a man and a woman. The 2013 application states: “Homosexual acts and lifestyles are… reprehensible in the sight of God.” When confronted with these facts, Mike Pence said he was offended that people were accusing his wife of being homophobic. Homosexual children are six times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual children. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among minors.
So, should we be surprised that Mike Pence thought the children housed in detention facilities were doing just fine? Nope. Mike Pence is the guy that ignores the suffering of children or exacerbates it in service of his own ideological ends. Anyone surprised by the vice president’s callousness just hasn’t been paying enough attention.