History is a wise ancestor who leads us, if we let her.
District Judge Gee postponed the order to release migrant children held in detention facilities by ten days with a release date of July 27. DHS, this is your opportunity to intentionally keep families together. To make wrongs right. To carve a new path forward.
From 1619 until 1865 we forcibly separated families in slavery. Children were legally allowed to be sold or traded without the permission of their parents. This was America.
From 1860 until 1973 we forcibly separated Native American children from their families through boarding schools. Agents were paid a bounty for “rounding up kids to ship to the government boarding schools. Later… parents had to sign papers to let their children go ‘legally.’ Parents who refused could go to jail.” Binary choice made way for forced assimilation. This was America.
In the 1930s during “Mexican Repatriation” children were left behind while parents were detained and deported. This was America.
A decade later, 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated in internment camps. In some cases, family members were separated and put into different camps. It was an executive order that legalized this version of America.
In 2018, over 2,700 children were forcibly separated by you under the zero-tolerance policy. District Court Judge Sabraw issued an injunction against the separations in June 2018. International agencies called you out on human rights violations. And the American people were outraged. The America we wanted was not the one we saw. Two years ago, this was America.
In each case, the dehumanization of human beings led to forced separation of families in the name of national security and capital gain.
So I ask you, DHS, because you hold the power. Will you set America on a better path than her past has projected for her? Fulfill Judge Gee’s order by allowing families to leave detention centers together.
Five-year-old Julia, my former foster daughter was separated first in Mexico from her biological mother. Smugglers held her mother hostage and forced her into prostitution. Julia was separated from her stepdad because of zero-tolerance. The power you wielded led to life-long trauma for their family. You have security forces in positions where social workers should be. Securing our safety as a nation involves upholding human rights, protecting our holistic wellbeing, and allowing those who seek safety to be first and foremost treated as human beings “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”
When, by July 27, you release these children to sponsorship families through the Office of Refugee Resettlement — which Julia went through — what then? Over half of low-income families in America are economically struggling in the U.S. right now due to COVID-19, and sponsorship families do not get a stipend like foster families do. Imagine taking a child into your home. What stresses would your family go through? Release families together. Let this be our America.
Julia ended up in foster care because she was released to a home that was already struggling financially.
As a foster parent who parented two American girls prior to Julia, family separation is achingly difficult, even when biological parents have abused or neglected their children. Foster care exists to reunite families as soon as possible with safety precautions around the children: good parenting standards in a safe and appropriate home.
Why aren’t immigrant families afforded the same rights? Unless the detained immigrant parents are abusive, children should be released with their parents. Beyond the unnecessary trauma we are inflicting on these families, we know that alternatives to detention cost far less and community-based programming is far more humane than detention.
If we separate families in the name of national protection at the cost of our souls, we are still the America we’ve always been. If we separate families for economic gain, how are we any different than the smugglers who do the same?
Every time we separate families, we stunt our moral growth continuing our already-too-long legacy of dehumanization. We subject so many to the unnecessary but all-too-familiar trauma of family separation for the sake of an America we don’t want.
Let us be an America known for reuniting families, not one that finds more subtle ways to tear them apart.
The first time I met “Daniel” was at his 8th birthday party. The clinic had a birthday party for him and bought him a special bike. He had never ridden a bike before, he was born with a disability. When the doctors put Daniel in his mother’s arms, they told her that the only chance he had to have another birthday was to leave their home for specialized care that his country could not offer him. What would you do for your child?
Nearly 35 million U.S. children have experienced one or more types of trauma. One of the most common causes of childhood trauma is separation from a parent or caregiver. Children as young as 5 months old can remember traumatic events. This can lead to social, emotional, and academic difficulties. Why would we as a nation ever want to contribute to that?
Daniel continues to have surgeries, therapy, and complications. He stopped playing at recess because he was afraid he would fall. Imagine being 8 and knowing how much a CT scan costs at the Emergency Department. Last year, Daniel started having seizures. Would you walk across the world if it meant you could keep your child safe? Would you accept the help of friends to find someone to perform brain surgery on your baby? I hope so.
Keep families together. Keep children remembering happy birthdays wherever they are. Families will continue to walk across nations to find a better life for their children, we are only responsible for how we treat them while they are in our care.
Amy Norbury, MSN,DNP
Nurse Practitioner from North Carolina