“Please, don’t look away now.” I heard this plea from an activist on the southern border who is working on the fallout from the Trump administration’s no tolerance immigration policy, resulting in the separation of thousands of children from their parents. The worker, aware of America’s short attention span and the recent relentless pace of headlines worried that, as a society, we would become otherwise occupied—and our attention would be drawn away from the refugee children and their parents.
Indeed, just a week after numerous headlines implied that the Trump administration had finally arrived at its Waterloo by creating a policy so heartless that millions found it abhorrent, the news cycle ricocheted wildly. The Supreme Court approved the Muslim “travel” ban, Harley Davidson announced it would move future production overseas, the House rejected comprehensive immigration reform, plans for an upcoming Trump-Putin Summit were outlined, there was a workplace shooting in Annapolis and Justice Anthony Kennedy retired from the Supreme Court, potentially shifting the balance of power on the bench for decades to come.
While each topic is worthy of thoughtful reflection, the activist’s concern is well taken. Now is not the time to turn away from the heartbreaking incidents among our most recent and vulnerable residents. Their stories must be heard. Their voices cannot be forgotten. Storytellers (reporters, photojournalists, media producers) must continue to chip away at the opaque wall that’s been built around them. We—Americans of all stripes—must keep the pressure on our elected officials and those in power to ensure that the truth ultimately emerges in place of the obscene optimism that all children will be found and reunited with their parents.
(I mean, really? Have you ever had so much as a simple form misplaced by a government agency? How did finding that work out?)
For me, one of the most symbolically stark moments in this whole saga occurred during former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski’s “womp, womp” comments on Fox News about a 10-year old suffering from Downes Syndrome who was separated from her mother. Lewandowsky’s lack of empathy in this exchange drove heartlessness to a new level.
I spent two days this past week laid low by a viral infection. Sapped by the infection, I had zero energy, had to cancel appointments, felt miserable and useless. But while I was hobbled by my infection-induced lethargy, I realized how life does not wait for a clear launch pad before assaulting you with missives of struggle. Small, temporary setbacks—an infection, a migraine headache, a low-grade fever—or permanent disabilities like Downes Syndrome—continue apace, not exempt from the unimaginable heartbreak, uncertainty, fear, loneliness and grief that accompanies life at the border for those families that have been separated.
In my book, Beyond the Comma, I write: “If we live in touch with both our deeply personal realities, while at the same time engaging the global forces that surround us, our sensitivities are heightened and our potential for becoming more creative, sensitive and productive individuals is enhanced.” So, taking a page from my book, I applied my feelings of discomfort and listlessness to those on the border. My empathy deepened as I wondered how many intimate struggles were unfolding against the massive injustice of our immigration policies. I recommitted my life to reversing this inhumane treatment, and I commend everyone to do likewise: at rallies on Saturday, and with friends and colleagues in the weeks to come.
The activist’s voice haunts me: “Please, don’t look away now.” Do not be distracted. Not until the task is complete. Not until the kids are back with their parents. Not until this problem is solved.