By Alan Zibel
It’s impossible to forget the scenes of sobbing migrant children separated from their parents, placed in cages, running away from clouds of tear gas, cooped up in a tent city and appearing in court alone.
But President Donald Trump’s anti-child policies are not limited to immigrants. They are emblematic of an administration whose antipathy to all children is apparent on virtually every issue, and especially so for low-income kids and children of color.
From the environment to health care to education to product safety, the interests of the largest U.S. corporations are far more important to the Trump administration than the health, safety and well-being of America’s children.
Here are 33 ways Donald Trump, along with his corporate-allied cronies and ideological extremists, have put America’s children at risk:
- Undermined efforts to improve the quality of school lunches: The Trump administration has rolled back the Obama administration’s efforts to serve more nutritious foods to students, allowing chocolate milk and other sugary, salty, fatty foods that lead to obesity and poor health. Trump’s agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, said that it “doesn’t do any good to serve nutritious meals if they wind up in the trash can.” but nutrition experts say the rules put children’s health at risk.
- Nixed protections for transgender students: Only a month after taking office, Trump rescinded an Obama-era position that transgender students can use bathrooms that correspond with students’ gender identity. A year later, the U.S. Department of Education said it no longer would investigate complaints filed by transgender students who are denied access to bathrooms. Most recently, the Trump administration has explored defining gender as an unchangeable biological condition, a change that would exclude transgender people from civil rights protections.
- Faked concern about school shootings: Trump did nothing after 17 high school students were gunned down in Parkland, Fla. Instead of action that would actually make schools safer, Trump proposed to arm teachers, and his administration set up a sham commission to study school safety issues that intentionally chose to ignore the role of guns in school violence. While Trump briefly endorsed some gun-control measures and observed accurately that that the gun lobby has “great power over” Republicans, the Trump administration has avoided the gun control issue, save for a promised ban on ultra-dangerous “bump stocks” which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire more quickly.
- Repealed education standards: Early in the administration, Trump signed measures getting rid of standards for teacher-training programs and accountability rules designed to ensure that schools serve poor and minority students.
- Placed protections for minority students at risk: The Education Department, under pressure from conservative groups, is dismissing large numbers of civil rights complaints and evaluating whether to eliminate Obama administration’s 2014 school discipline guidance, which encourages school officials to address the disproportionately large number of students of color who are suspended and expelled, and even jailed. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called for $1 million proposed cut to the Education Department’s civil rights office, a move a House Democrat described a “slap in the face” for minority students.
- Separated children from their parents, put them in cages and held them in detention camps: Trump’s cruel and unnecessary family separation policy resulted in thousands of kids being separated from their parents, placed in cages, held in a tent city in Texas and appearing alone in court. These policies were enacted over the objections of career federal officials. The Trump administration then took months to reunify families and gave out inaccurate data about how many children had been reunified. Most recently, the Associated Press reported that workers at a tent city detention camp holding 2,300 teenagers in the Texas desert did not use FBI fingerprint background checks for its workers, increasing the risk that people with criminal histories could have contact with the boys and girls between 13 and 17 years old.
- Used tear gas on children, and then said it wasn’t not so bad: After U.S. agents used tear gas in a confrontation with a crowd of migrants at the border with Mexico, Trump claimed that “the tear gas is a very minor form of the tear gas itself” and denied it was used on children despite photos of children running away from tear gas used by federal agents.
- Left undocumented children and young adults in limbo: Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has curbed enforcement of immigration laws against undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. Trump claimed he supported a “bill of love” to protect the Dreamers, but didn’t support actual legislation. Instead, Trump demanded strict anti-immigrant measures such as his unnecessary border wall proposal. As a result, the issue remains unresolved, and about 800,000 Dreamers remain in limbo.
- Tried to deprive immigrants of social services: The Trump administration wants to deny green cards and visas to legal immigrants who use federal benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps and housing assistance. This cruel proposal could cause fear and uncertainty for immigrant families and result in millions of eligible children going without food assistance, health coverage and more. Immigration officials would have latitude to to reject immigrants’ applications due to low incomes, deterring immigrants from legal paths to citizenship and causing immigrants and their family members to forego critical benefits for fear of the consequences.
- Discussed ending the right to citizenship for children of immigrant parents: Trump said he would issue an executive order ending the right to U.S. citizenship for children born in the United States. This unconstitutional move was even dismissed by House Speaker Paul Ryan.
- Explored rolling back housing segregation rules: Enduring patterns of residential segregation in the U.S. have made it difficult for low-income children to climb the economic ladder, but the Trump administration is considering getting rid of a rule requiring local governments to combat residential segregation or lose federal funding. This rule, enacted by the Obama administration in 2015, is designed to promote low-income housing in wealthier areas that have long resisted such housing. Without this regulation, housing segregation and discriminatory practices will persist, making it far harder for low-income children to advance in American society.
- Killed internet privacy rules: Just two months after being sworn in, Trump signed legislation getting rid of regulations banning internet companies from selling customers’ browsing histories without their permission. Without this rule, internet companies will be able to target children with ads. Federal rules already prohibit data collection from children under 13 without parental consent, but teenagers are ripe targets for invasive advertising.
- Signed a tax bill that shafted low-income families: Trump and Congressional Republicans did the bidding of big donors by enacting massive tax cuts for large corporations and wealthy individuals. After passing these irresponsible cuts, Republican lawmakers and Trump’s top economic adviser pivoted to talk of cutting back on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other programs claiming that the government can’t afford them.
- Threatened drastic budget cuts: The Trump administration has repeatedly threatened, but failed to enact, draconian cuts to federal programs that benefit kids. After lawmakers reached a bipartisan compromise budget deal that provided a huge spending boost to the military as well as social programs, Trump quickly got grumpy about the deal he had just signed. He pushed for brutal cuts to children’s health insurance, and other spending that lawmakers already approved. Thankfully, this plan failed.
- Failed to prevent lead poisoning: The Trump administration’s first budget proposed to eliminate two federal programs that aim to reduce children’s risk of exposure to lead paint, which impedes brain development. It then took a court order to get the administration to revise federal standards for lead paint and lead dust exposure. These new proposed rules include tighter standards for lead dust on floors and window sills but still put children at risk by failing to include tighter standards for lead in paint and soil.
- Ousted the top EPA official for children’s health: The Trump administration placed Dr. Ruth Etzel, director of the EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection, on administrative leave in September 2018. Etzel, a pediatrician and renowned child health expert, told CNN she suspected that the administration objected to a major lead poisoning report nearing completion. “Maybe saving children doesn’t matter anymore,” Etzel told CNN. “If you watch their actions and not just listen to their words, you find out they’re not walking the walk that they would be walking if they really wanted to eliminate childhood lead poisoning.”
- Delayed an update of standards for lead in drinking water: The Trump administration has delayed new federals standards for lead and copper in drinking water. After several delays, the EPA now says it plans to release these proposed standards next year. Meanwhile, more cities are facing public health crises over lead levels in their tap water.
- Refused to ban a pesticide that causes brain damage in kids: Trump’s EPA refused to ban chlorpyrifos, a brain-damaging pesticide sold by Dow Chemical Co., which contributed $1 million to Trump’s inauguration and whose CEO met with Trump several times. Though a federal appeals court has now ordered the Trump EPA to ban the pesticide, the Trump administration hasn’t stopped carrying water for chemical companies and agriculture giants. Trump’s Department of Justice has asked for a rehearing of this case with a larger panel of judges. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue even asserted that banning the dangerous chemical would prevent farmers from using and “effective and economical crop protection tool.”
- Pushed to let teenage farm workers handle pesticides: The Trump administration has solicited public comment on whether to repeal an Obama-era requirement barring children under 18 from handling pesticides on farms. This limitation, enacted in 2015, is one of the few national regulations on child farm labor and is especially important because early exposure to pesticides can cause cancer and neurological damage.
- Dialed back protections for people who live near chemical plants: One in three kids attends school close to a dangerous chemical facility. But the Trump administration tried to delay enforcement of rules designed to ensure communities are prepared for chemical plant disasters. Trump’s EPA even proposed to delete important accident-prevention regulations. Fortunately, a federal appeals court ruled against the Trump EPA, saying it could no longer delay disaster-prevention and safety measures to promote emergency preparedness measures and sharing of information about chemical threats.
- Tried to throw out a climate-change lawsuit filed by children: A group of young people between 10 and 25 sued the federal government in 2015 for failing to stop climate change, arguing that they have the right to live in a safe climate. The Trump administration tried to get the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the case before the scheduled trial date, complaining about the cost of the litigation, but the court allowed the case to proceed.
- Deleted a mention of the impact of climate change on children: Trump’s EPA deleted warnings about climate change from rules on power plant carbon emissions. Another Trump EPA regulation on greenhouse gases in cooling units eliminated language noting that children, the elderly and the poor are “most vulnerable to climate-related health effects.”
- Worked to weaken rules for mercury emissions from power plants: The Trump administration is reviewing whether to undermine protections that reduce mercury, arsenic, lead and other air pollutants from power plant emissions. Mercury pollution is particularly hazardous to kids, damaging the nervous system of children and fetuses.
- Ignored the health benefits of environmental rules: The Trump argument has argued, absurdly, that the government shouldn’t even consider health benefits — such as curbing soot in the air — when deciding whether to go ahead with federal rules, arguing that these benefits are an unintended effect of the rule. Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, seemed oblivious to the real public benefits to the health of vulnerable populations like children and the elderly, calling such benefits “fuzzy math.”
- Closed a federal office that focused on children’s health: The EPA closed the National Center for Environmental Research, which provides millions of dollars in grants each year and runs fellowships to study the effects of chemicals on children’s health. Though EPA officials claimed the research grants would still be funded, staffers at the center were reassigned.
- Cut off funding for a teen pregnancy prevention program: The Trump administration defunded a program that uses evidence-based initiatives to reduce teen pregnancy rates, but then was blocked from doing so by a federal judge.
- Tried to get rid of families’ health care: The White House and Republican lawmakers spent months trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The 2010 health care law benefited low-income children tremendously, spurring parents who were newly eligible for health care to sign up their children for existing health care programs and use more preventive care. Thankfully, the Trump administration failed in its effort to repeal Obamacare, but has still worked to harm children and families by slashing spending on advertising for Obamacare signups and trying to sabotage Obamacare by getting rid of the mandate that Americans carry health insurance. Under Trump, the Justice Department even declined to defend the law’s ban on denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions or charging them higher rates.
- Allowed health insurers to sell skimpy insurance plans: Children and families will be harmed by the Trump administration’s decision to allow health insurance companies to sell junk health care plans that lack coverage for such essentials as prescriptions and quality maternity care. Those with these plans may find themselves responsible for significant expenses, forcing them to go into debt and even bankruptcy. While these inexpensive plans could target healthy young adults who use little healthcare, but children and families tend to use healthcare more often and would be harmed.
- Undermined efforts to encourage breastfeeding: Despite the consensus recommendation of public health experts and doctors, the Trump administration sought to dilute a World Health Organization resolution favoring breastfeeding over the use of infant formula, helping out the infant formula industry.
- Failed to ensure food safety in trade negotiations: The new North American trade deal’s includes restraints on domestic food safety and inspection programs and requires the U.S. to accept food imports that do not meet U.S. safety or inspection standards. The trade pact also maintains limits on food inspection at the border and adds new rules limiting audits of countries’ food safety programs. It also fails to fix rollbacks of U.S. food labeling policies that previously were challenged by Canada and Mexico, including country-of-origin labels for meat and dolphin-safe labels for tuna.
- Appointed an opponent of product-safety regulations to run government’s product safety watchdog: Trump’s acting head of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Anne Marie Buerkle, is a former right-wing congresswoman with a record of opposing strong mandatory health and safety regulations. Another CPSC commissioner, Dana Baiocco, spent her professional career defending corporations in product safety cases.
- Reached a weak settlement over stroller problems: The CPSC sued a maker of jogging strollers over reports that the front wheel could detach suddenly and injure parents and kids. The agency reached a settlement requiring the stroller manufacturer, Britax, to repair defective strollers but still avoid calling these repairs a recall. Two Democratic commissioners were highly critical of this arrangement, writing that “an agreement that provides relief without anyone being fully alerted to the nature of the relief is pretty much no relief at all” and expressed concerns that other companies will seek similar treatment.
- Put young nursing home workers at risk: The Trump administration has proposed to repeal a policy that protects 16 and 17-year-old nursing assistants from getting injured in nursing homes and health care jobs. Trump’s Labor Department apparently has no problem with young workers operating dangerous patient lifts on their own, without training or assistance from an adult worker. However, occupational safety experts have concluded that most youths do not have the ability to properly assess the risks of using this equipment.