The images and sounds emerging from the southern border are gut wrenching and heart breaking. You don’t need to have kids of your own to empathize with these young families and to understand the trauma of separating children from their parents in a strange, chaotic land. Unanswered questions about the zero-tolerance process being enacted on the border evoke deep and disturbing concerns about how this web of bureaucratic immorality will ultimately be untangled. The thought that once children are separated there is an uncertain pathway toward reuniting them is unconscionable. The idea that parents could be deported while the children are “allowed” to stay in the US is horrific. To hear the cries of young children and see the images of boys in cages (as of this writing, we have not been permitted to see girls or very young children), tears at one’s heart.
As a child, I remember a day at Long Island’s Jones Beach when my sister was lost as the powerful surf pounded the shoreline just yards away. While the incident lasted only for several moments, its impact on our family was powerful and a half-century later I still recall the terror. My family’s trauma is but a tiny speck of what children and their parents are currently experiencing on the border. We must put an end to it now.
While my blogs are usually posted closer to the weekend, I have been so sickened by the current policy against immigrant families, I was spurred to action in the hope that, in some small way I can inspire action in others. My plea is to do something to end this nightmare, and to end it now.
Last week, an editorial in the New York Times offered helpful suggestions: Call Congress; Join protests; Donate to legal and humanitarian efforts (there are several nonprofits providing vital free legal aid that need financial support) and Vote. I encourage you to read the full article for more specifics.
And perhaps there is something else. I make this suggestion knowing that my knowledge of these matters is really quite limited, and such a thought might appear foolish. If so, I encourage you to also risk naïvety and to join me by re-posting this idea. Share it with your networks OR offer a concept of your own. The logjam in Congress and the White House is real. We need to consider practical suggestions to break the dam and start moving toward abolishing this practice.
Here is the idea: the zero-tolerance policy of arresting people at the border, as initiated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and endorsed by President Trump, has resulted in these awful scenes of children being separated from their parents.
The administration could change this policy with a “simple phone call.” What has us all tangled up is that crossing the border illegally is a misdemeanor and against the law. Therefore, everyone who seeks entry into the US is caught up in “zero-tolerance” and is subject to arrest. But we usually do not arrest people for committing misdemeanors. The Trump administration will likely not change its zero-tolerance policy, but if it is applied only to those who have committed felonies—those we really seek to keep out—the vast majority of arrests would be unnecessary. And children would not need to be separated from their parents.
This President is adept at changing the story. If past is prologue, he could do so here without risking political fallout among his base. By ever-so-slightly shifting his language, we could avoid the horror at our border that has such a devastating impact on young children.
Now, I make no claim at knowing all the facts and nuances of what is, admittedly, a complex issue like immigration reform. But maybe we need to narrow our focus and offer a simple solution to one aspect of the debate: Change the language: from zero tolerance for all who break the law to zero tolerance for felons.
This would certainly not fix our broken immigration system. Much painstaking work would need to be done both for those currently trapped in the system and for long-term remedies. But it might be just enough to unstick the current log jam in Washington. At the least, it might help relieve the suffering of young families who flee horrific violence in their homelands and seek respite in the United States. And, it might restore a sense of dignity to the welcome we extend to refugees.