I have read enough Holocaust literature and American slavery narratives and stories of the infamous poor houses of the 18th and 19th centuries to wonder what I would do if I were a witness to the abuse and persecution of innocent people.
Haven’t we all worried about whether we could have summoned the courage to be the righteous gentile or the abolitionist or the advocate for the down-and-out? Now our time has come. The migrant crisis boiling on our southern border demands our attention and action.
How it came to pass, who owns the blame and how to resolve the greater immigration problem are all discussions for another day. The political fight over the human catastrophe is for another time. Our mission is to do what we can to ameliorate the suffering of innocent children being held in U.S. detention centers.
According to Michelle Goldberg, writing in The New York Times, “Exactly one year ago . . . after a national uproar, Donald Trump signed an executive order ending his administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents. Six days later, a federal judge ordered the reunification of thousands of parents and children whom the American government had torn apart. . . . At the time, it seemed that one of the ugliest chapters of this vicious administration had ended.
“But if there’s one thing this administration rarely backs down on, it’s cruelty. Family separation, it turns out, never really stopped. According to Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Immigrants’ Rights Project, just over 700 families were separated between last June and late May. Without legal or political intervention, he fears that the number could reach 1,000 by the end of this summer.”
Immigration lawyers who inspected several detention facilities in Texas last week reported severe overcrowding, malnutrition and disease. “In 33 years of representing unaccompanied detained children, through several administrations, both Republican and Democrat, we have never seen an administration act quite as callously and cruelly toward children as this one,” Peter Schey, president of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, told The Washington Post. “We have never seen the kind of widespread illness, malnutrition and deaths as under this administration. We’ve never seen anything like this before.” At least six child migrants have died since last September.
No one has an exact count of how many children are being held. No one is able to say that all the babies and infants will eventually be reunited with their parents. We cannot obtain reliable statistics because the system is overwhelmed.
Someone said to me, “It’s the immigrant parents’ fault for putting their children in danger,” and I wondered if it was also the fault of parents who smuggled children out of genocidal dictatorships throughout history, forging documents and breaking laws all along the way. The will to live is a powerful motivator, especially on behalf of one’s children.
The welfare of the migrant children in our custody is our problem now, no matter how they landed here.
Last week, when I saw the photo of the young father and his 2-year-old daughter who drowned together in the Rio Grande while trying to get to America, I knew history would judge us harshly.
So please, don’t look away. Do something.
Attend one of the many vigils on July 12, called Lights for Liberty, being held around the country to protest conditions at our detention camps. Make a statement, with your voice and with your feet, that this is not our America. At press time, one vigil was set for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Central Nassau, in Garden City, from 8 to 10 p.m. Please inquire for updates on time and other locations.
If you can, consider donating to Jewish Family Services, United We Dream, the American Civil Liberties Union, Mijente, Immigrant Families Together, Save the Children and the Immigrant Justice Corps, all of which are coordinating advocacy and services at a national level.
Call your representatives, and let them know you’re watching what they do to resolve this crisis. Sign petitions. Speak up. Vote.
Imagine the fear and loneliness of a child — your child, my child — disoriented, stunned by the sudden loss of loved ones. Traumatized by the processes of government. To ignore this unfolding American tragedy is to admit a total failure of imagination and compassion. That is not who we are.
As we celebrate freedom, let us cast a wide net.
Copyright 2019 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.