A child holds on to a fence at the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas on August 12, 2019.
A child is holding onto a fence at the U.S. Border Protection’s Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas on August 12, 2019. Photo Credit – Carolyn Van Houten – The Washington Post / Getty Images
I am the daughter of a New Yorker who was born to Lebanese immigrants in the midst of the great economic crisis of the 1930s. Immigrants who, thanks to their entry into the United States, were able to lay a solid foundation for themselves and their families before they could finally do so, I settled in Colombia, where I was born and raised.
Colombia is one of the most beautiful and diverse countries in the world, but full of inequality and a lack of social mobility. America, by contrast, seemed to me to be a place that has always been viewed as the epitome of equal opportunity and limitless pursuit, where anyone could succeed.
Then how could a nation built on the shoulders of immigrants and pretending to value family values so highly, have such unimaginably cruel immigration policies? What reasons might justify separating children from their families with no intention of ever reuniting them when the US prides itself on being a beacon of hope for those who come from places where there are not even basic needs or safety are a guarantee?
In the “land of the free” 545 children now live in no man’s land, who run the risk of growing up without a mother or father. 545 Children have to go to sleep without someone to reassure them that they are not there. 545 children who cannot hug, laugh or have contact with the people they love most.
It is estimated that 60 of these children were under the age of 5 when they were first separated from their parents. As a mother, I think of my youngest son, who is now 5 years old. I think of how he cries for me when he skin his knee and the pain I feel when I’m not there to comfort him. Who answers the cries of the children who are left without their parents? I can’t imagine the pain I would feel if I didn’t know where my son was and if he was safe, or the fear these children have to endure and the emotional scars that will be inflicted on them.
The story goes on
Policies like family separation arise out of cruelty. Reading about the allegations made by women undergoing a forced hysterectomy, asylum seekers reportedly signing their own deportation orders under threat of harm, and parents whose crying children are torn from their arms, shows how guidelines like these evade even the most basic of people can sense of humanity. This policy is not about protecting people or making communities safer. The unspeakable tragedy on America’s southern border is about hatred and the denial of basic human rights.
Every child deserves to meet their basic needs, receive an education, and be surrounded by caring and caring adults. The trauma these children experience every second they are separated from their parents will remain with them for a lifetime. And, according to nearly 7,700 mental health professionals who have signed a petition calling on President Donald Trump to end family separation, these policies show a total disregard for everything we say about child development, the brain and know the trauma.
Some may argue that parents put their children in this situation, but many families who come to the US are fleeing violence, poverty, persecution or climate change in their home countries. The decision to leave home is not an easy one, as anyone who has left home can attest. It is telling that some of the parents who have been found have made the near-impossible decision to keep their children with friends or family members in the United States, “for fear of what will happen to their children” when they return home.
This is not about politics. There is simply no justification for the harm done to these innocent children and those responsible for these cruel policies must be held accountable.
If ever there was a time to show more compassion to immigrants in our communities, it is now. During a pandemic that has already stolen so much from us, immigrants were often the ones on the front lines doing the essential work to keep us healthy and safe – often in dangerous conditions and for far too low wages. The last thing they deserve is to break up their families.
Every effort should be made to find and reunite the torn families. I am grateful to the ACLU attorneys who worked tirelessly to find these parents. To prevent this from happening, we need a fair and humane immigration system that recognizes commitment to asylum seekers and the fundamental humanity of each and every one of us.
Speaking is not always easy, especially if you are not an American citizen and can be perceived as an outsider commenting on domestic politics. The decisions of the United States affect us all, all the more when children’s lives are at stake. Therefore, it becomes a common and urgent task to share the stories of these families, no matter where they are, to keep their names on the news and bring them back together. Now is not the time to be silent.