Jailing the Children

As I sat watching the Brewers vs. Pirates baseball game tonight, the announcers were talking about how parents of middle school baseball players feel pressured to sign their children up for camps, enroll them in travel leagues, identify the player’s prime playing position, and are even worrying about whether their child will get a college baseball scholarship. I start scrolling through Facebook as I watched the game, and find that social media is concurrently telling a very different story—one filled with tales of crying immigrant children ripped from parents’ arms. Both of these instances are examples of parents making sacrifices for their children, yet we vilify, divide, and jail the immigrant family and praise the aspirations of the athletic one. Aren’t both sets of parents simply trying to do the best by their children?

The Trump Administration recently announced a “zero tolerance” immigration policy that intentionally separates parents and their children if they cross the Mexican-American border. Within 48 hours of being detained by ICE, the parents and children will be separated, according to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who promises that her department “will not apologize” for its enforcement practices. In addition, Nielsen accused those entering the southern border undocumented of simply posing as a family to gain sympathy. The stories and audio of the parents’ and children’s anguish tell a different story. (And I’m sure any one of those parents simply wishes that hoping for a baseball scholarship was the worst of their problems).

I do not know these undocumented parents personally, but I am only imagine the direness of a situation that would drive a parent to uproot their children for a staggeringly new life in a foreign land. Some American parents have struggled to put food on the table or had to move their family to another town for safety, but how many have thought about the lengths they’d go to move their children to another country if that was all that could guarantee even an ounce of safety?  I am certain that many Americans would make the treacherous journey into Mexico if only the situations were reversed. Instead, to put that in a very White America example, American parents are mad about “illegal immigrants,” while yelling at a coach for benching their child during an extracurricular game. Undocumented immigrants, like angry American parents of athletes, simply want what is the best for their child. It’s all about perspective.

Crossing the border at a non-checkpoint is actually a misdemeanor crime that normally carries no fines and only up to six months in jail (for a first offense), so separating children from their families seems to fall under the cruel and unusual punishment category, especially when the children themselves are innocent. In addition, families who claim asylum have reportedly been subjected to the same separation and detainment, and Sessions stated, “Those children, if the parent brings them across the border in an unlawful area and the parent is deported, they will take the children home with them. That is true, if the parent claimed asylum and was allowed to stay here, then the children stay here also and they're kept in health and human services custody.” In short, children will be kept away from their parents during the full extent of time that the United States’ government is evaluating the family’s asylum request.

Evidence shows that the Trump administration’s policy is intended to deter individuals from seeking asylum. This is ethically wrong because asylum is a legal practice that allows individuals to seek safety in a foreign nation from deadly situations in their home countries. The Trump administration's intent is to stop all immigration, no matter an individual circumstances. Plain and simple, Trump and his minions want to watch the world bleed.

Reporters and the politicians who have traveled to various detention centers in search of answers have shared videos of depressing conditions. These ICE detention camps are far from luxury hotels—these centers are poorly regulated, unkempt, and insufficient at serving basic human dignity. These conditions are not suitable to protecting or raising children, even if the children were with their parents as has been the common practice. And again, these are children who have committed no crime themselves.

In addition, Nielsen could not guarantee that a line of communication would be maintained between the child and parent after they are seperated. As White House chief of staff John Kelly so clearly articulates (sarcasm intended), the plan is that “The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever.” Whatever is the operative word. No one in the federal government connected to this humanitarian issue really cares what happens to the children. Whatever happens to the children happens.

Kelly defends the practice of separation, noting that what is most important is making certain that undocumented immigrants are deterred from coming to the United States. No one really cares about what happens to the children in their countries of origin or in the land of plenty. To add unconscionable insult to inhumane injury, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in a press conference yesterday that the government “does not like separating parents from their children,” and that “if we build the wall, if we pass legislation to end the lawlessness, we won’t face these terrible choices.” So a high-ranking government official has effectively admitted they are OK using innocent children as political bargaining chips, literally holding real people hostage, to get their way. Democratic processes be damned.

The fact is that these migrant children were stripped from the arms of their parents who were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). That should be heartbreaking enough, but worse, we as a nation cannot guarantee that these children will not be lost, abused, and/or trafficked once they are no longer in governmental custody. I have yet to hear any politician propose a way to return children to their parents’ custody, much less getting the undocumented families into a safe, stable environment.

Trump has called for funding for his wall, chanting “look at what you made me do” at the Democrats, before he’ll advise this practice be ended. Sessions is too busy picking quotes from the Bible to manipulate to check the Constitution and our laws to see that the DOJ is in the wrong. Speaker of the House Ryan and first daughter Ivanka Trump are happily and tactlessly posting about their lives as white parents. Democrats are condemning the practice, but they need Republicans to also challenge Trump, Sessions, and Nielsen to get this policy ended.

Nielsen, in her statements today, tried to differentiate how undocumented families are treated if they enter the United States outside of a regulated checkpoint, but the Trump Administration, as a whole, is not friendly to asylum-seeker entering through traditional channels either. Just last week, Sessions announced that gang and domestic violence would not longer be considered an adequate reason for granting asylum. Plus, Trump has routinely made comments degrading non-white immigrants, whether its his “shithole nations” comments or calling Mexican immigrants “drug dealers, criminals, rapists,” and too many other comments to record here.

The current administration’s perspective is that these children and their parents are not human but merely animals. After Trump referred to some immigrants as “animals” and this policy of separation was announced, Washington Post opinion writer Radly Balko responded on Twitter with, “It isn’t easy for a man to rip a screaming child away from his mother. Most of us couldn’t do it. This is where the ‘animals’ comes in. Declare he really isn’t a child, she isn’t a woman. Now it’s like pulling a piglet from a sow. That has always been how states enable savagery.” Balko is correct that words have consequences, and right now, the consequence is dehumanizing others in order to make their lives meaningless, so no one bats an eye when they are lost and abused.

Use every ounce of empathy in your body to understand what it is like to make such a dangerous journey to give your child a chance; only to have that child taken from you by the government that you thought could at least give your child a chance to live. It’s not governmental indifference but American indifference. We are letting our government and representatives do this. We gave ICE the power to jail innocent children to make us feel great in our America. The fact that this could and did happen is heartbreaking.

With a story like this, I recognize that I do not have all the information, and I am limited by what investigative journalists have been able to uncover. However, I do feel that it is an important topic to bring attention to even in its infancy. We cannot overlook the plight of children simply because they were born outside of the United States. Thinking about this article, I feel like I’m writing from the bandwagon, but if speaking out against reported human right abuses is unoriginal, then so be it.

We must talk about this in whatever way possible because awareness is power. Then, take it to the next step, and call your representatives. Then keep calling every day until the message sinks in. Although some in our government are ok with these heartless actions, most Americans have not sold their souls for political gain, nor will we allow our country to be stripped of it’s humanity by stripping away the human rights of those from outside our country.