Over the past few days, I have been shocked at the images and stories of government officials tearing children from their parents’ arms at the United States border. Like many of you, I find it hard to believe that this inhumanity has been sanctioned by our government and is happening here, in our country, in 2018.
Our country has long taken pride in being a beacon of hope, a promise of a better life for the downtrodden, and we have fought tyrants who violate human rights, particularly those who inflict harm on children. One thought keeps recurring-this can’t be happening.
But it is happening - and as tempting as it is to block out this drumbeat of horror, we cannot become numb to the stories. We, the people, must steadfastly remain dedicated to American values - such as observing the rule of law, being fair and truthful, and acting in the best interest of children. As a public interest lawyer and as an American, I have been shaken by this administration’s persistent and increasing challenges to the rule of law. Working with immigrants and refugees for the last 15 years, I’ve seen the dire need for the system to be improved, but also, why America must remain a beacon of light for those seeking refuge, and opportunity.
I’ve worked alongside legal services agencies over the last 35 years to be a voice for the voiceless. Whether for tenants fighting unlawful evictions, women seeking pay equity, children seeking a loving, permanent home, or voters being denied access to the ballot box, we work to elevate those voices in pursuit of justice.
But the most voiceless of all are the infants and toddlers being ripped from their parents at the hands of the Trump Administration. Despite the complexity of our immigration system, there is no right to counsel for immigrants subject to that system. Without counsel, both American citizens and immigrants with legitimate claims to asylum have been deported in violation of the law: because they had no way to assert their legal rights. And here, we are talking about children, who lack both the intellectual and developmental capability to assert their legal rights, tell their stories, or in many cases do anything but cry for a missing parent. They have lost their first and greatest advocates: their parents. Doctors and mental health professionals are unanimous in their assessment that our government’s unnecessary and cruel actions will have profound and detrimental effects on the development of these children and their ability to express and understand what has happened to them.
This ‘zero-tolerance’ practice and its enforcement at our southern border as a ploy to deter immigration is a major change in policy. The late Robert F. Kennedy once said,
“Our attitude towards immigration reflects our faith in the American ideal. We have always believed it possible for men and women who start at the bottom to rise as far as their talent and energy allow. Neither race nor place of birth should affect their chances.”
We must continue to marshal that belief, protect the rule of law, and refuse to accept intolerance as policy.
An America where children are used as a bargaining chip in our immigration policy is not an America to be proud of. This practice is, at its core, inhumane. There is no red or blue side to this debate: there is right and wrong.
I will not turn away from the inhumanity being visited upon innocents by our government. Please join me in redoubling our resolve to reject these heinous actions, to reclaim our government, and to draw back from the abyss of inhumanity into which this administration has drawn us.
Future generations are depending on it.