Put yourself in the room with immigration officials and try to imagine exactly which argument would convince you that separating children from their migrating parents would be a good idea.
Would it work for you because you’re a stickler for obedience to rules — no exceptions? Would it be okay because the United States must convey to others that illegal migration comes with severe consequences? How about because it’s the law (as of recently), as press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in a hollow attempt to justify what can’t be justified.
Does no one remember the atrocities that have been committed under the law?
Sanders explained that because the Trump administration has initiated a zero-tolerance policy toward illegal immigrants crossing our border, immigration agents have no choice but to enforce the law.
Zero tolerance means that people caught crossing the border are treated as criminals, charged accordingly and incarcerated pending trial and sentencing. As one would expect, children don’t go to jail with their parents. Thus, the children are separated and housed in secure, makeshift shelters, including a converted former Walmart in Brownsville, Tex.
On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security said the Trump administration separated 1,995 children from the adults they were traveling with at the U.S. border between April 19 and May 31.
Maybe some hardcore Trump supporters, who elected him president on a promise to get tough on immigration, can swallow this collateral cruelty as a necessary unpleasantness. But I can’t imagine that many of them are parents. As a mother, my heart breaks at the thought of a frightened and confused child being taken away from his or her parents and stashed like an orphaned animal in what amounts to a holding pen.
To be blunt, I don’t recognize this country anymore.
This “solution” to stanching the human exodus from Latin America across our border takes a toll not only on those arrested and detained but also on our own humanity. To insist that traumatizing children is the way to deal with the problem is a failure of imagination. To not anticipate the consequences of children being detained under a zero-tolerance policy that imprisons their parents is a failure of leadership.
Most troubling is the inherent lack of empathy — as policy — and what that not only reveals but also possibly foreshadows. The only way to rationalize these events is to view these immigrants as less than human. In the abstract, some Americans may be able to convince themselves that “they asked for it.” Or, “nobody invited them. What were they expecting, a parade?”
But there must be some posture between “lock ’em up,” which Trump supporters find easy enough to say, and “let’s find a better solution.” How about convening the Philanthropy Roundtable and see what the billionaires can come up with?
Meanwhile, allow me to put a human face on a few people I’ve interviewed in recent years. One woman I spoke with left Honduras and walked for five nights through the desert, the only woman among 26 men, to seek a better life. She left behind her two little girls who were sick with life-threatening diseases and had no means to seek medical treatment. Thanks to the money she was able to send home from cleaning houses in the United States, her daughters survived and are college-bound.
Next, meet a man and his nephew, both laborers from Nicaragua. They, too, walked the distance. They told me of the many human carcasses, desiccated and bleached by the relentless sun, that punctuated the landscape. To my expression of horror, the young one shrugged as he lit a cigarette. “They just weren’t strong enough,” he said.
The uncle, who told me he’s made the crossing at least a dozen times to visit his family in Nicaragua and return here to work, plans just one more trip home, this time for good.
These stories and these people aren’t rare. And though we have to find ways to slow the flow of illegal migrants, empathy allows one to consider the desperation that motivates so many — and even to admire their heroic courage and devotion to family. To the extent that we’re willing to dehumanize them so that we may inflict suffering upon children without the burden of conscience, we have far greater problems than illegal immigration.