Careful What You Hold High

The world is devastated about the children who have been separated from their families after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. And they should be. It’s devastating. Some people say it’s a political conversation. Some people say it’s a personal travesty. We know it’s both, because the personal is political and the political is personal.

We can probably have reasonable debates about immigration policy. You know, as long as part of that reasonable debate includes the foundation that humans with excess should share it with humans who lack basic necessities. And that we’re all better when we lift one another up. I’m personally a huge fan of radios and jeans and birth control and airplanes. I’m crazy like that.

I also happen to think most people don’t leave their homes unless their lives are so difficult or dangerous or scary that the prospect of moving somewhere where their skills are devalued and they don’t speak the language and people discriminate against them in both thoughtless and threatening ways is somehow less difficult or dangerous or scary. And, because I think that, I believe that if a government is concerned about the number of immigrants attempting to seek safety in their country, they should spend their efforts making these immigrants’ countries of origin less difficult and dangerous and scary. But that’s just me.

So we can have debates about immigration. But we can’t have debates about how we should treat people seeking immigration status. We can’t have debates about whether or not people coming to this country are entitled to the legal guarantees and human rights standards we’ve hung up on our walls in the form of “America is Awesome” posters: due process, parental rights, the fourth and fifth and sixth amendments. If we want to keep our U.S.A. posters up next to those ones with the kittens who are just “hangin’ in there,” we can’t pick and choose who is entitled to these rights and who isn’t, regardless of their citizenship. We either think these things are important or we don’t.

This subject is close to my heart (clearly), and I could tell dozens of stories about the wonderful, smart, and kind children who I had the privilege of helping—but I’m pretty sure there are specific attorney rules about that kind of thing. I will say this: many of these children are scared and overwhelmed. They’re coping with a different culture and language. They’re dealing with the trauma of what they left or how they got here. They’re trying to pass their American history classes and finding solace in art or math—subjects where language is less important. They’re learning English by watching sitcoms on tv. They’re eating McDonald’s after school with the friends they made in ESL class. They’re trying out for soccer teams and dance squads. Most significantly, they’re babies and children and teenagers. They’re confused about life, because all kids are, and they deserve love and support and care.

They also deserve the same legal process any child who is removed from their parents is entitled to—going to court, having the state explain why the removal occurred, hearing the court make a determination about whether the removal reached the required standard, and, if so, being placed in a safe and appropriate environment. Yes, children can be removed from the care of their parents in the U.S. No, they cannot be removed indefinitely, without legal recourse, or placed in inappropriate and unsafe places. These laws exist and I guarantee you the people supporting these recent separations would cling to them if they were faced with the removal of their own children.

People say you can tell a lot about someone by how they treat waiters or flight attendants or valets. That’s true, but I think you can also tell a lot about someone by how they react to a stranger’s crying baby or, you know, someone else’s child sleeping on the floor of a warehouse surrounded by chain-link fence and armed guards.

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