The images have been haunting from the start of our current government’s outrageous treatment of asylum seekers. And you knew it was only get worse.
There was, of course, the one that landed on the cover of TIME and gained worldwide notoriety (and lampooning) — the wailing toddler standing at the knees of her manacled mother, the armed border agent alongside. It was gratifying to learn later that mother and child were reunited and safe. But what about all the other images that slid across my consciousness and vanished? I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time scrolling in vain through online photo archives for the images that remain forever lodged in my mind.
For me, it was one of two very small boys walking hand-in-hand alone between two rows of men’s knees in what was obviously some kind of waiting facility. The children were vulnerability personified. I hope there was a parent nearby; I hope everyone is safe.
And then there was the photo of a small clutch of girls walking with a chaperone on a dark New York City street toward a shelter. The caption noted they’d just landed from a flight halfway across the country. The mother in me wanted to scream (and maybe I did) “How dare you put my child into an airplane for what could well have been her first plane ride? How dare you!”
Or now that children and parents are beginning to be reunited, what about the heartbreaking video of a mother trying to embrace her little boy who kept breaking loose from her arms and running off? “What is wrong with my son?” the shocked mother shouted. And I wanted to shout along with her, “What have you done to him? How dare you!”
Except for being stuck in my mind, these images are unavailable for me. But today, and before I lose it, is a front page story in the Los Angeles Times about a Guatemalan family’s reaction to the changes they see in the 12-year-old boy returned to them after four months. While in detention, the boy was hospitalized and treated for depression. Among his belongings, the family found a powerful prescription medication used to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. They knew about his hospitalization but had never given permission for him to be administered medication. Again the parent in me wants to shout, “How dare you!”
We’re just at the start of this horror, you know. If our inept officials manage to put every child together with every family and allow asylum petitions to resume, there will still be the matter of long-term psychological harm that was inflicted on the children. Whose responsibility is that? And, not to be crass, but what about the money families scraped together to finance what is an internationally legal undertaking just to be sent back to the dangers they were trying to escape?
How dare we?
Last night on MSNBC’s “11th Hour,” Brian Williams mentioned that incoming college freshmen today have no memory of 9/11. That startling fact sent me back to my past posts to see what I wrote and wonder how I could commemorate the date this year. Others have observed that 9/11 held in our time the same significance as Pearl Harbor did in our parents’ time.
I trust those college freshmen will have the opportunity in their lifetimes to visit the various commemorative installations that have been established in New York City, at the Pentagon and today, in Shanksville PA, along with others in this country and abroad. They are poignant reminders of the sacrifices of individuals made in the face of unspeakable evil.
But the most significant 9/11 reminder I read today was an op-ed piece in The New York Times by Joe Quinn, an Army veteran whose brother’s death on the 102nd floor of the World Trade Center spurred him to military service and tours twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan. It took him 17 years to be able to face the realization, he wrote, that our country is doing just what Osama bin Laden strategized: “to embroil the United States in a never-ending conflict to ultimately bankrupt the country …(and) to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note.”
Our country sorely needed something like John McCain’s memorial service this morning in Washington DC , and if you were not able to sit transfixed before your television for its three hours’ duration, I urge you to search the internet for a re-broadcast. It was a hero’s final gift to us.
Yesterday was a good day for a journalism junkie. Heeding a call from The Boston Globe, more than 300 newspapers across the country ran editorials reminding readers, as The New York Times put it, “of the value of America’s free press” and affirming “a fundamental American institution.” The Times ran a full page of excerpts of many of these and encouraged readers to read fuller versions on the individual publications’ websites. In all, it made for inspirational reading and served as a helpful antidote to the press’s near-daily disparagement by our current president.
The Los Angeles Times did not participate in yesterday’s exercise but appeared to make amends by including on today’s Op-Ed page a piece by Northwestern University journalism professor Alex Kotlowitz titled “OK, Now It’s Your Turn To Defend Press Freedom.” Citing threats of death and injury to journalists by individuals taken in by the “enemy of the people” slur and how journalists are dealing with them, Kotlowitz writes, “Journalists are doing a remarkable job defending their profession. Where is everyone else?”
He told of Elijah Lovejoy, “a 19th century newspaper publisher and abolitionist who was killed by a mob while defending his printing press. ” The Newseum describes Lovejoy as the “first American martyr for the press,” and his story is worth contemplating. After an anti-abolitionist mob destroyed his press in St. Louis and authorities refused to acknowledge his Constitutional right to express his views, Lovejoy relocated across the Mississippi to Alton IL. Again townspeople destroyed his press. Authorities condemned the violence but urged Lovejoy to refrain from printing “incendiary doctrines which…have a tendency to disturb the quiet of our citizens and neighbors.” In response, Kotliowitz writes, “Lovejoy took to task not those who opposed his views but rather those who questioned his right to speak his mind and to publish the truth…”
Lovejoy said, “I know that I have the right to freely speak and publish my sentiments. “What I wish to know of you is whether you will protect me in the exercise of this right.”
Few came forward, Kotlowitz writes, and “four days later, while trying to protect his new printing press from being set on fire, he was shot and killed by a mob. In his final days what so distressed Lovejoy was not his ideological opponents but rather the decent people of Alton who refused to take a stand…(He) recognized the need for citizens to speak out in defense of a free press. That need has become urgent once again…”
Kotlowitz concludes, “Journalism is not an easy institution to rally around. But if there were ever a time for citizens to defend the press, this is it.”
Today marks three months since our government announced its “zero tolerance policy” toward undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers, ripping children from the arms of their parents and placing the kids in detention facilities across the country. I’m sure it seems much longer for the parents, some 400 of whom have already been deported and whose whereabouts the government has no clue.
After worldwide protests, “zero tolerance” was abandoned and close to 2,000 families (of the original 2,500) reunited. A family reunification deadline imposed by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw has been missed more than once, and the government tried to fob off the rest of the job on the American Civil Liberties Union whose attorneys are working with immigrants who were apparently duped into agreeing to be separated from their children.
(The ACLU has just filed a lawsuit challenging newly imposed stiffer requirements for granting asylum.)
While the ACLU has expressed a willingness to help, Judge Sabraw demurred. “That will be 100 percent the government’s responsibility,” he said. But he added that the ACLU cooperate, as described by the Los Angeles Times, “by establishing a lead counsel or steering committee to decide how to best track down their deported or missing clients and advise them of their legal options.” Both entities are directed to work together on a plan for this cooperative effort. The details of that plan are due Friday, Aug. 10.
Once the reunification mess is sorted out, there will be a need to address the trauma that has been endured by children and their parents.
Photos: npr.org, newyorker.com, hrw.org
As if snatching children from trusting asylum-seekers and then losing track of them were not atrocious enough, now there’s a new horror happening in the land of the free and home of the brave.
Foreign-born military recruits who enlisted with a promise of U.S. citizenship upon completion of their service, are suddenly being discharged with little or no explanation. The only explanation is xenophobia, according to Margaret D. Stock, a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel and immigration lawyer who helped create the program that attracted these people. Known as the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI ) program, it was created during the George W. Bush administration to recruit immigrant troops with valuable language and medical skills. More than 10,000 have joined, almost all in the Army. Our country’s thanks to them is to send them off to uncertain futures with questionable military records and unknown citizenship status.
I first became aware of this situation last night with an excellent piece by Joy Reid on MSNBC. Wanting to know more, I found two items in today’s New York Times, one on the news pages titled “They Came Here to Serve, But for Many Immigrants the Service Isn’t Interested” by Dave Phillips and the other an editorial on the OpEd page titled “Trump’s New Targets: Immigrants in the Military” by Rob Cuthbert.
I want to say, as I have repeatedly lately, “What is happening to us?” But I know. Ugly times.
At last week’s Families Belong Together demonstration, there was that sign, “Make America Kind Again.” Another read “Make America Human Again.” I know we haven’t always been either. Only consider our history with Native Americans, African Americans, Japanese Americans and now Muslims and others trying to become Americans.
For most of my life, I’ve wondered how Germany and other fascist countries got to where they got in the 1930s and ’40s. I’ve read books and toured Holocaust museums in many cities, puzzling over what happens to good people who get caught up in bad times. (Scott Simon mentioned a few months back on NPR that 22 percent of Millennials never heard of the Holocaust.)
So I’ve wondered. And now perhaps I know.
Spotted at a Families Belong Together demonstration in Los Angeles, one of tens of thousands held across the country in reaction to the ongoing horror of children taken from their parents by our federal government and deposited in detention centers across 17 states. What have we become?