State of the Union
Suffer the Children
Even after seeing Jeff Sessions in action for nearly 18 months, I was astonished. He was cold. Indifferent. Matter-of-fact. He might have been speaking of tearing down long-abandoned buildings for all the concern he expressed.
He was talking about ripping terrified children from the arms of anguished parents and sending them off with strangers into an unknown and frightening future. The children’s crimes were having been born in the wrong places—countries of limited opportunity and lawlessness with violence often up close and personal. The parents’ crimes? Wanting better lives for themselves and their families.
“If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you,” Sessions warned happily, “and that child will be separated from you as required by law. [Note: It isn't.] If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”
(Notice the pejorative smuggling and smuggle where the words bringing and bring would do just as well. And on another note, it is NOT “required by law;” it's the Trump administration policy.)
In 1903, these words by the poet Emma Lazarus were inscribed on a bronze plaque, displayed to this day in the pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty stands:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
It seems we’ve withdrawn the invitation. Our humanitarian descent goes on.
Although the Republicans are the ones currently playing the role of villain, it’s clear neither party has developed and enforced a consistent, rational immigration policy. (Walking across the border at the Tijuana checkpoint, I once watched a couple of young people duck under the turnstile just behind an immigration officer and go, laughing, on their way.)
I don’t have a magic answer to the immigration problem, but I do know that the gratuitous cruelty visited on children is just that: cruel. Even if it accomplished the administration’s goal of discouraging others from coming, the ends don’t justify the means. Machiavelli’s dead.
As a therapist (and practicing human being), I’ve seen many times over the lifelong effects of childhood trauma. Taking a child from parents, often after a long and difficult journey, will leave a scar that may never heal. Children have ways of explaining an inexplicable world when they’re young and vulnerable, and those immature explanations—half-formed, inaccurate, self-denigrating—will affect them all their lives. They’re rarely positive and tend to run to beliefs like “I have no control over what happens to me” … “Life is frightening; don’t take risks” … “I’m not as good as everybody else” … “Nobody cares about me” … and on and on. Deliberately inflicting trauma on children whose entire lives will be colored to varying degrees by the experience? When did we decide that’s a good idea?
And where are those 1,500 children that current news reports tell us have been lost in what passes for a system?