Separating Children from Parents: Small Crime, Big Punishment

So one week ago our biggest problem here in the heart of America centered around Trump’s treatment of allies and dictators. Now all holy hell has broken loose and we are an angry and grieving nation, sent into chaos by an old man with too much power surrounded by too many sycophants, an old man who wants his way at all cost. He may be our president but he also is a paranoid old coot. He thinks he is being cheated all the time. He thinks the families at the border are pretending to be families and that they are actually gang members coming to wreak havoc in Trump’s America so he is separating families. (He hugged a flag – apparently he has hugged multiple flags.) (I love America but I don’t go around hugging flags. America’s people should be the true recipient of our President’s love.)

Trump does not actually tempt families to break the law at the border. But the lines at the border are long and the lines that go through customs do not represent a way in, because people are being turned away. So people decide to jump the line, to come in where there is no customs presence. Usually I find line jumpers maddening but in this case this behavior could be seen as “thinking outside the box”. These people paid money to travel, they may have been traveling uncomfortably for weeks. They find themselves, at the end of their journey, sitting under a brutal sun, with no shade available, no food, no facilities, waiting for a chance to get in a line to enter the “promised land”. We can attest to their good intentions because after their illegal crossing they turn themselves in to border guards.But once they leave that legal line and find an unauthorized place to cross the border they have come to a crucial moment that leads to repercussions that they have never dreamt of. As soon as they do this Trump knows that they can be charged with a misdemeanor and arrested. Since they have been charged with a crime, however small, they have insured that the system will now treat them without mercy. Now they will not go to court to argue for asylum; they will now go to court to decide if they are guilty of a crime, and since they clearly are, they will be deported. Since they have been arrested they can and will, under Trump’s zero tolerance policy, be separated from any children who came with them.

What happens to the parents is bad and seems all out of proportion to their “crime”. What happens to the children is even worse. They lose their parent/s and they may never be reunited with their family again. There is no plan for how these families, once separated, will ever be able to locate each other again. No useful records are being kept at the border. All is chaos. Shelters are hurriedly located and stocked. Meanwhile children are held in cages with no adults to comfort them and no activities to occupy them. They loll on mats on the floor in freezing cold warehouses until they can be moved to a new warehouse, but one that at least has beds. Some children are kept this way for days before they can be placed. Children cannot understand their changed circumstances. What are they thinking in their small heads? What will they remember about this as they grow up? Parents who would die for their children are dumbfounded by this. They have no way to help their child. They are left with either deep and abiding sadness, or anger, and a determination to fight a huge and impenetrable bureaucracy to have their child returned to them.

This old misguided fool of ours has gone over the line – he has turned humane America into something monstrous, something cold and inhuman. America wants to wall them out. America thinks they are animals. America is what its leaders say it is. That is the face we present to the world. Our President is acting as if America is being overrun with cockroaches and he has to physically brush them off, push them back through the open door and then slam and lock it. If they were cockroaches this would not work. They are not bugs, they are people, and it still will not work.

Actions have consequences, the world will soon give up on America, accept that the America they knew, such a short time ago, is gone. We will get the isolation we’re asking for but it will feel more like shunning. Trump’s cruelty to families from our neighbors in South America will affect how these people feel about America for generations.

It is no consolation that this all proves that Trump’s “overkill” immigration plan has no merit. Trump is the one who needs to be convinced and he is, according to himself, never wrong. He fears that if he is not adamant about “the wall” he will lose all credibility. He can hug our flag all he wants but he is breaking hearts all over America.

There are now four centers to hold babies, “tender age” children, who have been separated from their parents. These parents, we are told, may never be reunited with their children again. Why are we just going ballistic now when this has been the policy for more than a month? Because last week this reached critical mass. And because now we are also told that there was no plan for reuniting these separated families at some point in the future. There is no system to keep track of each child and to be aware of where each child ends up. Once a parent is deported and their child remains in America being reunited is an extremely remote possibility.

We cannot have a nation unless we have borders is what we are always told. That’s true by definition I guess. But we can have porous borders, or strict borders, or closed borders, our choice. We can issue temporary visas for anyone who enters. We could require passports to enter. We certainly need to have much clearer laws about asylum. We could have a border at Mexico like the border we have with Canada. We could have the same laws at both borders. If you build a wall people will try to get over the wall. Then we will have to decide whether we will shoot them or not.

If we let people come and go with minimal documents we do run the risk that everyone will want to come and few will want to go. Not all South American nations are as peaceful and well-regulated as Canada is and people will bring their issues with them. But they can also be sent back across the border. That certainly would not be any more expensive than housing children with all the proper attendant services.

There is not any perfect solution to our border with Mexico if we open America up to all South Americans and any other person who comes in through South American. We have not created a foolproof system for tracing long-term guests when they enter our country and getting rid of them when they commit mayhem. We probably cannot create a foolproof system unless we can keep track of both citizens and noncitizens. Do citizens lose too much freedom in such a system? Is watching children being torn from their parents and sent into exile in a strange land better? Wouldn’t it be easier to give up another piece of our rather illusive freedom rather than to turn children with parents into parentless clients of our social services system. Wouldn’t it be easier than building a tall and useless wall along our southern border? There is unlikely to be a consensus on either plan. Whatever we do, we need to stop doing this.

(There was a screen shot on Facebook yesterday of a conversation between some Americans. This scum, motivated by a President who encourages hate, suggested that these children could be kept as an organ donor bank for real Americans. It was taken down later in the day. This is shameful behavior. Sick.)

Photo Credit:

This is a view from the cheap seats.

Immigration Policy – Please Rethink Mass Deportations

I think in order to deal with the immigration issue fairly you have to engage that special ability that most of us possess; you must be empathetic. You have to imagine that you live in a nation suddenly made un-liveable, perhaps by war, or famine, or a power vacuum and resulting lawlessness, or just a society so stagnant that you can see that your children will always be doomed to the deprivations of poverty.

Try Empathy

You have to follow the mental experience a bit further, and hear the stories about America that people tell. These stories say that America is not paved with gold but is still a land of opportunity where enterprising people can get a job, or start a business, and slowly build a good life for themselves and for their children. You find people who share with you ways to enter American legally and offer instructions for how to stay longer than is legal. You find a land that is far from perfect but you are willing to start at the bottom, in the most onerous, poorly paid jobs and then build up patiently to a better life. Often you and your family are willing to do work American citizens will not do.

Maybe you came to meet someone and outstayed your visa. If you came alone perhaps you came as a student and overstayed your visa. Maybe you never actually attended college at all and just enrolled to get into the country. Maybe you walked across a border successfully avoiding customs and then stayed.

Immigrant Guilt

There are some things that are problematic about your decision to stay here without legal status. Perhaps you need to steal an identity to get the documents you need to be employed, so you hack someone’s computer or steal a purse or wallet or buy a fake ID. Some employers know you have no papers but will look the other way and pay you under the table. These actions make you a criminal in your new land so you must hide, live a life that is full of fear and less free than the lives of legal citizens, to avoid calling attention to yourself. Stealing ID’s hurts someone who is a legal citizen and you know that it is wrong. Working under the table leaves you with no protections against an abusive or exploitative boss. Either way you wish you were here legally, especially for your children’s sake.

America’s Guilt

In many ways Americans know your status but look the other way. Schools care about educating children so they don’t make a big deal of it if they happen to suspect that an immigrant family did not come into the country through proper channels.

Suddenly though, after the 2016 election, immigrant families find themselves in great danger of being plucked out of their new, always precarious existence and threatened with imminent deportation. It doesn’t matter, apparently, how many years you have been here. If you have a fake ID you are classified as a criminal and you are in even greater danger of being deported. Maybe you speak perfect English (or not), maybe you have paid taxes for years, maybe you have a business. You feel like an American, but suddenly you are about to be hunted down and arrested and turned out of your life.

What you did was wrong but you did it for the best of reasons (survival) to save the lives of you and your family. But America knew that this was happening and they let you stay. People did get deported; there always was the nagging fear that you might be discovered and sent back to the bad situation you came from. As time went by perhaps you felt safer and safer; more and more an American and you had children here who are citizens.

Now I’m back from my empathy experiment, but I am able to keep that viewpoint in mind.  I’m me again, a poor but still privileged white woman born in America. Up until now I have never lived in a land that was chaotic or dangerous, or in an area that was devastated by a natural disaster. Since the 2016 election I am more worried about our stability as a nation, right here in America. But I have put myself in the immigrants’ place, so I must be honest. If my family faced these circumstances and I was told of a possible way out, I think I (or you) might do the same and take that chance.

And I am watching our own President try to do something I never thought I would see in America. He is going to expel people who have been allowed to stay in America for years – to send them back into countries they don’t even call home anymore. It is not the Holocaust – when people were rounded up and murdered – but it feels so much like that; at least enough like it to tell us that it is wrong. Obviously some people will be sent back to lands that are so unstable that murder or rape or kidnapping could be real possibilities. Will neighbor turn in neighbor? Will sympathetic Americans have to hide immigrants? How will that work in such a populated world? Exactly how will immigrants without documents be identified? I cannot imagine that any of this will make life pleasant for anyone in America. How unpleasant will things get? Will some American citizens have to lose their freedom or even their lives to oppose this activity?

We Are to Blame

It is actually our fault these folks came and were allowed to stay. We don’t have a consistent way to check documents without also making citizens carry papers. We don’t have any hard borders except between Canada and Mexico and America and, as we know, many argue that these border are not all that secure. It feels un-American and is perhaps un-Constitutional to make people present documents on demand. So we have been very lax about immigration. I contend that we cannot hold people responsible if they break laws that are rarely enforced.

America needs a way to track temporary visas and find the visa holders when those documents expire. But all of the ways we could do this are distasteful or invasive or ineffective. Visas could be placed under the skin as we do with the chips to keep track of our pets. You don’t like that idea? It also has flaws. What if you travel a lot? You will have lots of implants. What if someone with no compunctions kills you in order to physically remove your implant? There will end up being a market in counterfeit implants. We are even more creative in our criminal endeavors than we seem to be in our technological innovations these days. If you don’t like that idea then perhaps you have other ways we could keep track of expired visas and pair that information with the locations of the people who let that visa expire. Right now people with expired visas can easily get lost among 350 million of us.

There must be a way to find people who got here in ways that are not approved without rousting them out after they have made a new life and sending them back to a land that is no longer theirs. However, until we have a fair way to send undocumented people back “home,” we should fight against this current administration’s plan which is inhumane and which will cause as much damage to our American democracy/republic as it will to the people who are deported.

Grandfather in the people who are here and put in place a workable system for those who are currently arriving here and staying too long. Don’t do this deportation assault in the way that these executive actions mandate. Congress, do your jobs. Interview experts, devise a system, try it out, and start over if that doesn’t work. Stop undoing programs we need and really do your homework to set up an immigration system (not a wall) that is not too invasive to citizens and works to stop people from breaking rules that are not real rules because they are rarely, unevenly, and ideologically applied.

The new Executive Action we are hearing about is just as awful as the one the courts recently overturned. We will be judged harshly by nations around the globe and many countries will not allow deported individuals back in which will leave thousands in limbo. Steve Bannon may want to isolate us from other nations but it is not a good plan. It will cause atrophy and it will make us more of a target than we are for aggression from bad actors. But this time we won’t have any friends.