Cruelty – There Is No Other Word for It

Liberty Turns Her Back on Immigrants

Lady Liberty turns her back on immigrants. That is the thought that came to mind while gazing out the window of the Great Hall on Ellis Island, the gateway to America for so many immigrants (including my grandparents).

 

Upon hearing and reading reports of children being forcibly removed from parents seeking immigration asylum into the United States, a combination of tears and anger compels me to write this column. The promised piece on the leadership of children over the school-shootings crisis will appear in this space soon.

There is no other word for it: Taking children away from parents seeking asylum from countries plagued with deadly violence, such as Honduras, and taking them somewhere across the nation is inhumane. In fact, there are no words. Though government actions harmful to children are by no means new, civil liberties attorneys are declaring that the current situation is unprecedented, “cruelty with no bounds.” An article in the New Yorker, calls it a form of state terror.  Medical and child-welfare experts point out that the emotional and psychological damage to these very young children is likely to be permanent.

What will happen to these children?

Chief of Staff John Kelly said in an interview on NPR, “The children will be taken care of—put in foster care or whatever.” In response to all the anguish along our southwestern border, Mr. Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and the President justify the actions of ICE as a means of deterrence. For parents fleeing their home countries out of fear of life-threatening violence? (And those minors being members of MS-13 and other gangs? Only a minute portion is involved, according to The Marshall Project.) Well, just days later, reliable news sources such as NPR’s Frontline report that some 1,500 children are “missing,” unaccounted for. What will happen to their distraught parents? The nightmare is unfathomable, yet it is actually happening.

Liberty in ChainsThe ACLU, acting on the findings of Lee Gelernt, the group’s Deputy Director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project (as featured in the MSNBC clip), regarding a mother from the Congo who was separated from her young daughter for months, recently filed a national class-action lawsuit,

All of us, not just as caring Americans, but as caring people, must speak up! Finding both elected officials is very easy; all information can be found at one place, at USA.gov. And be sure to include other notable people, such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, and Kevin K. McAleenan, Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It is easy to fall into despair. However, the collective “small” actions each of us – regardless of political affiliation – can do, such as writing letters and discussing this critical issue, both in person and online (such as in blogs or on social media) could well make positive change. Indeed, it is often the only thing that does.

Here is my letter. Please feel free to borrow as much as you like!

Upon hearing and reading reports of children being forcibly removed from parents seeking immigration asylum into the United States, a combination of tears and anger compels me to write. Taking children away from parents and taking them somewhere across the nation is inhumane, beyond words. Civil liberty attorneys are declaring that the current situation is unprecedented. Medical and child-welfare experts point out that the emotional and psychological damage to these very young children is likely to be permanent.

Chief of Staff John Kelly said on NPR, “The children will be taken care of – put in foster care or whatever.” Well, just days later, reliable news sources report that some 1,500 children are “missing,” unaccounted for. Members of the Trump Administration justify the actions of ICE as a means of deterrence. For parents fleeing their home countries out of fear of life-threatening violence? What will happen to these children? What will happen to their distraught parents? The nightmare is unfathomable, yet it is actually happening. This is not the America to which I pledge allegiance! This is not the land of the free!

Sir (Madam), I urge you to do everything in your power to take action with the agencies responsible for this abhorrent outrage. All of us, not just as caring Americans, but as caring people, must speak up!

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Revisited: What Do We Tell the Children – and Immigrants (as Well as Refugees)

Playful boy in the expansive courtyard of the Great Umayyad Mosque of Damascus, Syria

Photo by James Gordon, Los Angeles, California, USA: “Playful boy in the expansive courtyard of the Great Umayyad Mosque of Damascus, Syria” Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. This mosque, the fourth holiest place in Islam, is now in ruins.

It’s time to revisit two themes: “What do we tell the children?” and “What do we teach the children?”  In other words, v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha, “Love your neighbor (or stranger) as yourself.”
vahavta-lreacha-kamocha
On Saturday, January 27, Trump issued his now-famous executive order banning residents of seven designated predominantly Muslim nations from entering the United States. Noteworthy is the fact that the order contains the phrase “foreign terrorist” but not “refugees.” Among these foreign terrorists detained was a four-month-old infant in need of open-heart surgery, and a one-year-old with cancer. In fact, world wide, children, already among the most vulnerable, are suffering in disproportionate numbers.
What do we mean by “extreme vetting”? A Homeland Security official explains that refugees have been been vetted thoroughly all along.

Teaching and Supporting the Children

Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, offers a comprehensive guide for educators and school support staff in dealing with the many complex issues of immigrants and refugees. Says the report,
“Schools should be safe havens that embrace all students and families, regardless of citizenship and national origin, and that includes unaccompanied and refugee children. The 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe ruled that undocumented children have a constitutional right to receive a free public K–12 education, which provides the means to becoming a “self-reliant and self-sufficient participant in society,” the court wrote, and instills the “fundamental values necessary to the maintenance of a democratic political system.” However, today’s increased enforcement measures by the Department of Homeland Security and campaign promises made by the incoming administration threaten that right for thousands of undocumented youth and the 4.1 million U.S.-born children who live in mixed-status households with at least one parent or family member who is undocumented.”
The report offers facts about undocumented students, immigration raids, what school communities can do, and taking action beyond the classroom.
A companion piece, “What Do I Say to Students about Immigration Orders?” offers clear, honest tips for helping undocumented students and children of undocumented parents. This thoughtful essay offers ten additional steps of constructive action teachers and other adult role models can take.

Out Beyond the School

 On Wednesday, February 1, Trump cut a call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull short, refusing to honor America’s earlier pledge to take in 1,200 refugees. These are the refugees who had been relocated to the Papua New Guinea island of Nauru. The refugees consist mainly of families, many children among them. Witnesses – both the children themselves and the human rights group Amnesty International – describe the conditions there as inhumane.
Meanwhile, Samantha Bee had to put aside her humor in her scathing segment that night. Then, again, so was Trevor Noah, using the same c-bomb.

Forces of Good(ness) in the Twitterverse

 Bana Alabed, thankfully safe, had a poignant question for the president, seeking his empathy. Bana is the brave little Syrian girl who has been using Twitter to alert the world of the plight of these children, now political pawns subject to the political whims of egomaniac adults.
bana-02
The video can be found here. Please follow her! Bana’s mother, Fatemah, has also set up a Twitter account. Mother and daughter preach love, peace, and understanding. These are the message we need so much more of.

After the Super Bowl

Here’s the full, uncut version of the famous advertisement by 84 Lumber. It’s beautiful!

Who Speaks for New Jersey’s Children of Undocumented Parents?

…and perhaps of undocumented children as well.  I taught children like these as a bilingual teacher several years ago.  And children like these – children with dreams as big as their hearts – are among the closest friends of my daughters.  Most come from areas of extreme poverty; many come from areas that, because of violence, are among the most dangerous places in the world.

mother and child migrant

By Gillette, Bill, 1932-, Photographer (NARA record: 8464444) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This fine editorial, “Children of Fear,” offers much insight and valuable advice.

The Refugee Crisis: It’s About Mending, Not Building Fences

When I created this blog, it was not my intention to use it as a political mouthpiece.  Recent events in the political arena, however, have been anything but typical.  I’ll come back to that in a moment.

Even where there are walls, there should be open doorways.

Even where there are walls, there should be open doorways.

Last week, a heart-rending photo of a little boy washed up on the beach received tremendous exposure, thanks to the power of the social media.  There is no need to display the photo here; I am sure most readers know exactly which photo I am referring to.  As with all warfare, children are disproportionately affected.  Among huge numbers of refugees fleeing the despair that is Syria, Iraq, Iran, and parts of North Africa are more children than anyone can count, on which the UNHCR has reported.  That little Syrian boy – here is who he was.  At least that once innocent child from Syria on the beach now has a name, Aylan Kurdi.  Beyond the love of his parents, he had little else.

About those recent political happenings… The ones I am referring to are the insidious and pugnacious remarks by Donald Trump in his quest for his presidential nomination.  He and his GOP counterparts are racing to score political points, ranting about the dangers “Mexican rapists” pose (as the true ignorant bigot he his, Mr. Trump wraps up Mexicans, Hondurans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and other Latinos in a single stereotyped adjectives), while a genuine crisis looms across the Atlantic, one not seen since the dark days of Nazism.  Their diatribe trivializes the unfolding tragedy of the refugees, the families, and their children, of which that little Syrian boy is an example.  The whole spectacle is sickening.  What we now confront is no less than moral catastrophe.  For now, a growing number of Democrats in Congress are urging the US to do its part.

Individuals are also being called on to do their part.  After all, says New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, these refugees are people who could be us and probably were our parents or grandparents.  “Love the stranger, because that stranger could be us,” extols Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.  Rabbi Sacks brought up the Kindertransport during an NPR interview, when Nicholas Winton organized the transfer of more than 10,000 Jewish children to England, saving their lives from the maws of the Nazi monster.

Hideous cartoons such as this are what follow when solipsistic individuals hijack important social issues to serve their own narrow ends.

Hideous cartoons such as this are what follow when solipsistic individuals hijack important social issues to serve their own narrow ends.

For political games in the US, it needs to be “Game Over.”  As Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai urged, we need to call on our leaders, our representatives.  And Charity Navigator has set up a page to help donors decide on a charity that would put funds to best use.  “Tear down that wall!”  Now is the time for people to come together for all of humanity and mend fences, not build them.