Last Christmas, as I purchased a few last-minute gifts at Old Navy, my daughter decided to play hide and seek — only she also chose not to tell me. Her twin sister, never one to leave my side, held my hand as I looked through the racks of clothes searching for the perfect fleece jacket. It was eerily quiet; I turned around, my eyes darting from rack to rack, and no Aviah. My daughter was gone.
I looked around more, but couldn’t find her anywhere. I searched the aisles, the children’s section, the front of the store. For fifteen agonizing minutes, my heart raced as I looked under the racks, and in each department. I went up to the register, tears forming in my eyes, worried my daughter had been kidnapped — at Christmas even. Before I could get the words out, another shopper saw me, and said, “Are you looking for your daughter?”
I said yes, my voice trembling, a frog in my throat. He pointed and didn’t say a word. The woman behind him said, “She’s right there, hiding behind the scarves.” I saw her little fingers wiggling and grabbed her, my emotions saturated with worry. She was safe. I could get back on with life as we knew it.
But that isn’t the case for hundreds of parents currently separated from their children — parents who risked their lives (and those of their kids) to come to the United States for the safety and freedom they could not have in their home country. In 2017, the Trump administration enacted a “no tolerance” immigration policy, one that has left lifelong scars on families who were dealing with trauma.
There are 545 children currently living in the United States who, because of Trump’s no-tolerance policy, are living with strangers. There is nothing just or right or tolerable about this atrocity. The parents of these children are believed to have been deported back to the very countries they were hoping to leave behind. They are now, presumptively, living back in their homeland without their children, their babies, their kids. Can you even imagine the anguish of that situation?
In a recent CNN broadcast, Don Lemon issued a scathing condemnation: “545 kids that your government, our government, separated from their parents possibly forever. This is the Trump Administration’s zero-tolerance policy, is that what it is, zero tolerance and its results are intolerable and it should be for anyone with a heart.”
While an unfathomable nightmare for any parent, it is the heartbreaking reality of these immigrant families — living every day without their kids, and their kids living without their parents.
The election for our new president is less than two weeks away, and for all of you who are undecided, unsure of who you would entrust your family with — can you really say Donald Trump is that person? Would you let him care for your child or children? What if he decided, in the baby tantrum kind of way that he works, that he had “zero tolerance” for your kid and placed them with strangers, foster parents, and strangers who don’t speak your kids’ language. How would you feel then? Would you vote for him?
As Don Lemon says, if you have a heart, you would not think this is a fair, humane, or just approach to dealing with immigration or families. To understand the insanity of it all, let’s go back to the era of Jeff Sessions. Remember him? You might not remember, because he only held his post for one year, but in that one year did a whole lot of damage — like enforcing and supporting his boss’s plan.
In 2018, he announced Trump’s “zero tolerance” plan, one that jailed immigrants who illegally crossed the border. What Sessions failed to tell us in his April 6th announcement was that this plan also included immigrant parents who were crossing the border with their children. A mere 3,000 kids later and three months later, Trump decided to sign an executive order (a real one and not just a blank piece of paper) which supposedly ended the separation of families — but not his zero-tolerance policy. That was in June. And to make the “zero tolerance” policy even more inhumane, as if this weren’t enough, those seeking asylum in the United States (asylum means those seeking refugee status) were also halted.
What we are grappling with as a nation is a question about values. Whose life is more valuable than another?
Trump said in a report published by USA Today that, “When I became president, President Obama had a separation policy. I didn’t have it. He had it. I brought the families together. I’m the one that put them together.” Really? Because the parents of these 545 children were deported and cannot be located, and there’s no family unity in that.
I spoke with one foster mom who fostered a 10-year-old little girl separated from her parents in 2018, a casualty in Trump’s quest to be Mr. Tough Guy. Could you be that foster mom, the one who wiped the tears of a little girl who had no idea when she would ever see her mother again, and wept in your arms for her mother? Can you imagine such a thing? Or worse, what if that was your little girl, being held in the arms of a stranger, scared, angry, and traumatized? What if you didn’t know where your child was or who they were with?
I pose these questions because I cannot imagine. All I can think of is the fear I felt when I lost my daughter in Old Navy, the fear I had that someone took her — would they harm her? Rape her? Murder her? Sell her? Every possibility flashed in front of me as I paced around the store.
My fear turned out to be unfounded. But this “zero tolerance” policy is an actual waking nightmare for these families, the 545 kids and parents who may never see one another again.
This all reminds me of slavery, of a time when children were separated from their parents, taken to market, and sold. Let’s hope it doesn’t take our country 400 years to right the wrongs of yet another inhumane policy.
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