Immigrant Children Are Being Separated From Their Parents

by Karen Johnson
John Moore / Getty Images

When I think of the Holocaust or the history of American slavery, one of the most painful images I’ve seen or stories I’ve read about is of children being ripped out of their parents’ arms. It guts me to think of someone taking my kids. I know that I’d cling to every last finger, every lock of hair that I could. I’d be screaming. Thrashing. Clawing my way back to them any way I could. I think I’d have to be knocked unconscious before giving up. But the horrific reality is that this scene isn’t just something to read about in history books.

The separation of young children from their families—against their will—still happens every day around the world, and in our country as well. It happens most often at our southern border, a place where parents are desperately trying to seek refuge from war-torn, poverty-stricken nations. A place where parents carry their sick and starving children with a glimmer of hope that they can get to other side. And it’s here where they sometimes still lose their babies and have no idea if and when they’ll see them again.

A recent The New York Times article tells the story of a young mother named Mirian who fled political violence in Honduras—running through a cloud of tear gas no less—in an attempt to find safety for herself and her 18-month old son. But when she arrived at the Texas border, her son was taken from her. That was on February 20 and she has not seen him since.

As a mother, my heart breaks for Mirian. I cannot imagine her pain. I cannot imagine how scared she must be, how helpless she must feel. How unbearable the unknown is—will she ever see her child again?

And Mirian’s story is actually more common that we may think, says The New York Times. In fact, the article states that “more than 700 children have been taken from adults claiming to be their parents since October, including more than 100 children under the age of 4.”

700 children are floating around the U.S., many of whom may not speak English. Are they receiving medical care? Are they placed with adults who can communicate with them? Are they given fresh diapers and proper nutrition and a bed to sleep in?

They must be terrified.

We don’t know the stories of all of these kids. Maybe some were in danger if they stayed with the adult who tried to cross the border with them. Reports have stated that some adults have used kids in illegal and unsafe ways as a means to gain access to the U.S., and the Department of Homeland Security defends its position on this issue, asserting that the agency does not separate families at the border for deterrence purposes.

“As required by law, D.H.S. must protect the best interests of minor children crossing our borders, and occasionally this results in separating children from an adult they are traveling with if we cannot ascertain the parental relationship, or if we think the child is otherwise in danger,” The New York Times reports.

However, we know how our president feels about immigrants crossing our southern border as he built his campaign platform on the promise of a “big, beautiful wall” that would keep out “Mexican rapists and drug-users.” His shit-show of an administration has also floated the incredibly inhumane idea of enacting a policy that would allow the taking of children from their parents as a means to deter immigrants from coming here.

In fact, former Homeland Security Secretary turned Chief of Staff John Kelly (who some say will be the latest Trumper to be given the boot due to a contentious relationship with the man in the oval office) even admitted in a 2017 interview to considering such a measure “in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network.” He then added the children “will be well cared for as we deal with their parents.”

As you “deal” with these parents who have fled life-threatening situations only to have their children ripped from their arms?


Shocked that Mr. Trump’s administration would even suggest such a thing? Yeah, me neither. So while Homeland Security says it isn’t currently using this system as a “deterrent,” we honestly don’t know what the cowboy militia down there does half the time with these families, but we can assume that they have Mr. Trump’s blessing to do whatever they want. Because if you want to believe that every case is dealt with in a humane manner and follows proper protocol, go talk to those who’ve lived in these detention centers for months and can’t find their kids.

So what happens to innocent children like Mirian’s son? The article states that they are taken to nongovernmental organizations and workers there attempt to identify a relative or guardian in the U.S. who can take over their care. But, sadly, “if no such adult is available, the children can languish in custody indefinitely. Operators of these facilities say they are often unable to locate the parents of separated children because the children arrive without proper records.”

Also, I’m sure it’s not easy to place babies and toddlers who cannot yet communicate with their families after being held in detention centers in states all over the U.S.

The article also shares a heart-breaking image of a mother being reunited with her 7-year-old daughter after being detained and separated for four months. Why, if both mom and daughter are detained, must be they be separated for four months? And why can’t Mirian get answers or knowledge of her son’s whereabouts, if he’s well-cared for, or if she’ll ever see him again?

Thankfully Mirian and others in her situation have people like Michelle Brané fighting for them. “The idea of punishing parents who are trying to save their children’s lives, and punishing children for being brought to safety by their parents by separating them, is fundamentally cruel and un-American,” says Brané, director of the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “It really to me is just a horrific ‘Sophie’s Choice’ for a mom.”

It really is. Moms like Mirian are faced with two choices: stay in a place of tumultuous violence or run and try to seek safety, knowing you might lose your child anyway.

After being held in three different detention centers in Texas, Mirian is now part of a lawsuit that was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of many immigrant parents. The goal of the suit is to prohibit family separations at the border so that parents like Mirian do not have to endure this heartache as they simply do what any of us would do for our kids. Because you know as well as I do that if you had to take this risk to save your child, you would.

In the meantime, this young mother will continue to search for her child, not yet two years old, wondering where his mommy is.

We are better than this, America.