Separating Children from Parents as a deterrent to immigration? This is OUR America!?! How could we?
My great grandmother was ‘forced’ to separate from her two youngest children when faced with her “Sophie’s choice” during the anti-Jewish Pogroms of Eastern Europe, sending two small children to an orphanage in a remote corner of the globe, South Africa. And so it was that my maternal grand mother, Rose Shames, never saw her mother again. Our family was forever split by country borders, the ultimate weapon that ensures that mortal wound, initiated by persecution. My family tragedy is told in a recent documentary.
After immigrating from Apartheid South Africa to the United Sates, some 60 years after Gran’s journey, I thought I found in my new country, one that revered and respected human rights, and one that protected children’s rights to be raised by their mothers, no matter what. So what could possibly alter such a basic human right?
I did not realize that 20 years later, I would face my own Sophie’s choice when the American immigration system would not recognize my right as a citizen with a same-sex partner, to sponsor that partner for a green card, and so we faced a separation between me as a parent and the child we bore of that union. After years of battle and much expense we managed to fight off the inept immigration system and some years later many other binational same-sex couples had relief when finally the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was held to be unconstitutional, allowing for Federal recognition of same-sex marriage, thereby restoring federal immigration rights to same-sex couples.
And still as a new citizen, I could not ever have imagined that after this progress and that of actions such as DACA, as delivered by President Barack Obama, the inept immigration system would devolve further. I thought we were poised to head toward that promise of heartfelt family unifying reform. Had we not learnt the full nature of what the persecutions and exclusions had delivered through history? The understanding of human rights through the century? Instead now, we Americans, are tearing children from the arms of mothers, lest we fail to mention spouses from spouses, siblings from siblings and so on!
Each and every one of us is responsible right now for the emotional torture and pain imposed by Donald J. Trump, Jeff Sessions, and Kirstjen Nielsen, in their sordid racist and xenophobic quest to deter immigrants of color. You know, those from “shithole” countries. In this endeavor they are destroying beautiful families, in the same manner as mine was destroyed back in 1920!
Just Two Weeks After Telling Congress Otherwise, Homeland Security Secretary Joins Attorney General in Taking Children from Parents to Achieve a Dubious Deterrent Effect:
Tal Kopan of CNN reported yesterday that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has adopted a policy that would require Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to “refer every person [including those seeking asylum- which IS LEGAL!!!] caught crossing the border illegally for federal prosecution, a policy that could result in the separation of far more parents from their children at the border.”
This policy is being adopted to achieve a deterrent effect, according to an internal DHS memo. However, according to Dara Lind of Vox, the very statistics the government is using to justify their actions are wrong – as proven with the government’s own data.
Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement explained that, indeed, families are separated “when we prosecute.” Children will be taken from parents and placed in government custody with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which recently confirmed that it lost track of nearly 1,500 immigrant children it had been tasked with keeping tabs on.
Secretary Nielsen’s policy corresponds with a recent Department of Justice memo requiring federal prosecutors to prosecute all referred cases for illegal entry. It also comes just two weeks after Secretary Nielsen told Congress, “[T]he standard is to – in every case – is to keep that family together as long as operationally possible,” and her spokesperson stated, “DHS does not have a policy of separating families at the border for deterrence purposes.”
Although this policy is now official, it is not new. Less than two months into the Trump administration, then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly stated he was considering separating families as a deterrence.
Although he later backed down, efforts to institute the policy continued and were implemented for five months last year precisely to show a deterrent effect.
Furthermore, according to government data obtained by the New York Times, the agency has already separated 700 children from parents, including over 100 children under the age of four.
This new policy has been officially adopted despite repeated efforts from the American Academy of Pediatrics describing the trauma to children as a result of this policy.
The President of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Dr. Colleen Kraft, said last week, “The government’s practice of separating children from their parents at the border counteracts every science-based recommendation I have ever made to families who seek to build, and not harm, their children’s intellectual and emotional development.”
What’s more, this policy provides no exception for those seeking asylum which could, as noted by the DHS Inspector General, violate international obligations and U.S. law.
Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch, a new project of America’s Voice, said: “Knowing the trauma it causes children, it is more than cruel to take children from parents and place them in government custody, especially considering the dubious nature of the deterrent effect. Moreover, this cruel policy may violate both international obligations and U.S. law and is a terrible use of government resources. It will create thousands of children in need of government care, an already strained system, and create special needs for children who will be needlessly traumatized by this cruel policy.”
CGRS Decries Inhumane “Zero Tolerance” Policy at the Border:
The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) decries the cruel “zero tolerance” policy now being enforced at our southern border, announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a speech on Monday. Sessions’ speech followed a statement issued by the Department of Homeland Security last Friday declaring that the agency would no longer exempt classes or groups of individuals at the border – including asylum seekers and parents with children – from criminal prosecution for “illegal entry.”
Under this new policy, the Trump Administration plans to increase prosecutions of people at the border in an attempt to deter future migration. Parents who cross the border with their children will face criminal charges and the possibility of prolonged detention, while their children will be transferred to shelters to navigate their own deportation proceedings alone. The majority of families who will be impacted by this policy are from Central America, where widespread gang- and gender-based violence have in recent years driven many to flee north. Central American parents who make the perilous journey to our border are not “smuggling” their own children, as Attorney General Sessions has suggested. They endure tremendous hardship, leaving everything they know behind, to protect their families from life-threatening violence in their home countries.
Individuals and families fleeing violence have a legal right to seek asylum and other forms of humanitarian relief in the United States. Treating them like criminals and punitively separating them from their loved ones violates our legal obligations to refugees and our Constitution, and runs contrary to our cherished values of justice, compassion, and family unity.
After noting this putrid policy, I reflect back to my own family and the trauma suffered through generations, as a result of separation and threats of separation and especially that suffered by my granny Rosie and my great grandmother Feiga. What a terrible tragedy.
Now I sit in the comfort of my Marin County home, reflecting on my blessings and privileges, my ability to board that plane to DC to visit my only brother, his wife and my nephews, or have my daughter return to her childhood bedroom from that college dorm in New York, and loving sisters, able to enjoy a summer together, my ability to visit my aunt, uncle and cousins in Los Angeles, my cousin in New York, etc.. etc… – and all the while other families are being torn apart right under my nose. In my country. In 2018! More than working pro bono for LGBTI refugees, what can I do? More than banners on streets, what can we do? More than your vote, yet to come, what can you do?
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