Separating Families At The Border Is Cruel And Inhumane -- And We Can't Look Away

by Domi Le
John Moore / Getty

It is a near-universal phenomenon among modern parents. At least, modern parents of babies and small children who live in industrialized countries with indoor plumbing. You rush off to take a quick shower, and as the water hits your skin, you hear phantom crying through the pipes. Is your child crying? Is it an auditory hallucination? You turn off the faucet, soapy and dripping, and pop your head out to make sure your child is safe. No crying, no screaming. Relief.

In America, there are mothers who still hear their children’s cries and screams echoing in their ears. Mothers not allowed to say goodbye. Mothers tricked into thinking that their children were off to a bath. Mothers whose children have been taken from them—by the US government.

The current US government has enacted a “zero tolerance” policy of separating families at the border as they seek asylum. These are desperate families fleeing violence and extreme poverty in their homelands. As a daughter of political refugees, I know that families do not get into a boat in the dark of night or trek an uncertain path, leaving everything behind, unless there was no other choice for survival.

My son is 3 years old. When he is in distress and cries “Mama,” I scoop him up in an embrace and kiss his chubby, tear-stained cheeks as his small hands wrap around my neck. Children – some half his age – have been ripped apart from their parents, sent thousands of miles away, with no knowledge of their whereabouts or if and when they will be reunited. This is intolerable.

I nursed my son until he was 17 months old. At that age, he had only a few words: Mama, Daddy, train. He depended on me, and his father, for everything. A baby as young as 12 months has appeared alone in immigration court. This is intolerable.

A father died by suicide after his toddler was forcibly torn away from him. A father who had risked everything to keep his child safe and seek a better life for him could not survive his child being taken from him. This is America. Despite nostalgia’s lies, this barbarism is not new in our history. This country has separated children from their mothers during the slave trade and has separated Native American families. That it is happening again, today, before our horrified witness— this is intolerable.

The UN Human Rights Office has called for an immediate halt to this administration’s heinous policy. The American Academy of Pediatrics has also offered condemnation, warning of the potential long-term effects of toxic stress on a child’s developing brain. The enormous trauma inflicted on these children will impact their physical and emotional health and have dire lifelong consequences.

One does not need to be a politician, a physician, or a parent to be outraged. No matter one’s views on immigration reform, the unnecessarily cruel practice of separating families is a violation of human rights and should be universally and unequivocally condemned.

This is America. This is who we are— today. And yet – this is not who we have to be. Although our civil rights are eroding at breakneck speed under this administration, we still have the power to help.

Call your representatives. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has shone a light on these injustices after his visit to an immigration detention center where he saw children held in what resembled dog kennels. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA 7) met with mothers at a federal detention center who recounted hearing their children screaming for them in the next room. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has introduced the “Keep Families Together Act” to stop this abominable policy. Urge your representatives to advocate for immigrant rights and to support Senator Feinstein’s bill. 40 Senators have joined with Senator Feinstein already— that number should be 100. Anything less is intolerable.

Support the ACLU – they have been a formidable force leading the legal fight to help reunite these families.

Donate to KIND, a legal defense fund representing migrant children.

Share information about these organizations with your friends and family, your neighbors, the other parents at Little League and PTA meetings.

Vote. People died for the right to vote. If we recoil at this current regime’s horror, then we vote for regime change. We act. We speak up for the voiceless and most vulnerable, for the child crying for her mother. We do not tolerate the intolerable, not today and not tomorrow.

We cannot look away. We must do our part. We cannot tolerate the intolerable, not one day, not one second longer.

History and our children are watching us.