News + Advocacy

Family Separation: An American Legacy

I’ve sat down to write this post many times, and with each draft, I fell short when trying to put into words just how much the zero-tolerance/family separation policy made my sensibilities run cold.

I’m learning about the history of this country as much through studying the past as seeing the present in action. The policies or laws enacted throughout history that sought to subjugate, control, restrict, criminalise or assimilate particular groups of people, are echoed in the decision to separate children from their parents when seeking asylum or crossing the southern border.

None of these actions, historically or otherwise, are being carried out without full knowledge of the trauma and cruelty that it will inflict. And that is the saddest commentary on an aspect of American life that I’ve read about, listened to … or learned for myself.

border patrol arrive to detain asylum seekers | photo by John Moore

And I think it was the cruelty – seeing the children in so much distress – that hit really hard. I used to be a teacher and I encountered some children during those years who had been separated from their parents for various reasons. All those reasons, even if they were quite different in each case had the same devastation. I could see the internal struggle to not become overwhelmed by the grief, fear and stress that would follow their every moment. I saw many of them no longer able to fight off the anger, despondency, anxiety and depression.

The government knew what this separation would do to the children and their families. And it was this level of deliberate cruelty that was so chilling – just as chilling as the separation of families through slavery or Jim Crow or the forced assimilation policies of residential schools and forced adoptions of Native children or the internment of Japanese-American families. The long-term damage that this will do to those newly separated children is immeasurable. I have a friend the same age as me who was forcibly adopted out from his Native American family into a White family to assimilate. He thrives in many areas of his life but this government led kidnapping has left deep and enduring trauma.

Attorney General, Jeff Sessions used the Bible to defend his decision to implement family separation – another chilling echo from this country’s history – because the passage he cited, Romans 13, has been used to justify slavery and White supremacy. The moment someone decides to proselytize about the deliberate infliction of inhumane, harmful and lasting trauma on other human beings, is the very same moment it becomes abundantly clear exactly how your spirit speaks. As Maya Angelou describes far more eloquently than I can, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

As soon as you dehumanise people [“animals”] and you criminalise action [“infest”] that you financially gain from [GOE], you lose your right to moralise, even if you do throw in a Bible verse or two.

taken into custody at the border | photo by John Moore

So what’s next?

Thankfully, there was intense outrage from many people in the U.S. [faith in humanity restored] and an Executive Order was signed by Trump to stop family separation but instead detains families together indefinitely. This is still not good enough. By a long shot. Our immigration system needs fixing and it’s the people of the United States who must drive this change. Do I have the answers? No. But everyone must register and go out to vote so they can choose people to represent them in government who are willing to champion the well-being of those “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free … .” Demand bipartisan leadership and action on this issue because now is the time to remember our humanity.

How to register to vote | How to contact your representatives

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