Children in Cages

Three nights ago when I heard the voices of little babies and toddlers crying for their Mommies on the news, a wave of sadness enveloped me. I felt it in my gut. I wanted to start crying, “I want my Mommy” with them.  Instinctively I knew these cries were not the cries you may hear in Wal-Mart from a child who is hungry and tired or the screams of a toddler who did not get what he/she wanted. But these were the wails of heartbroken babies, cries of fear and abandonment.  I know because I too experienced such desolation as a toddler and this pain is still with me over 60 years later. I was taken away from my parents along with six of my siblings after a fire in our home in 1956. We had to live in a Catholic orphanage for several months while our home was restored.  My two younger sisters, ages 1 and 2, were able to stay with our mother, thank God. I have only snippets of memory from that time, nothing horrific, no memories of being mistreated, but I do recall being sad. One of my older sisters tells how she was called from the children’s’ section to the Baby House where me and my brother lived, to try to get me to eat. She has no trouble recalling how the nuns were concerned because I would not eat. Of course I wouldn’t eat, I was grieving. My sister says that I looked skinny and that she felt so much pressure to “keep me alive” as the nuns were adamant that I would die if I did not start eating. I suppose I ate enough, because I am here now. I do have a memory of being woke up in the night and told I was going home. I said I was hungry and I remember sitting at a table eating a bowl of something so yummy and warm that in my child’s mind it was a bowl of porridge and I was in a fairy tale.

We were not separated for long and our parents visited every Sunday, but the damage was done. To all of us. As a child I lived with the fear of being taken away again and one time when I was in a car with a friend and her family going somewhere, I broke down crying uncontrollable until they turned around and took me back home. I could not tell them why I was crying. I just knew I could not go with them. And later, as an adult I would go into full blown anxiety mode anytime I was in a car and the driver said “I think we’re lost.” (If I was driving I did not panic, because I was in control.) When I was in my late 30s I read many self-help books and learned about the effects of childhood trauma and abandonment issues. With the help of prayer and self analysis and talking to my siblings I learned to cope with my issues and to not let them rule me. I’m sure I could have used a good therapist, but at the time I thought I could not afford one.  So seeing photos of crying toddlers and hearing their wails of sorrow brought up some bad feelings in me and to paraphrase Jesus, I know that whosoever does this to the least of these is not part of the Kingdom of God. [Matthew 25:40] And it is better they should have a stone tied around their necks and thrown into the sea than to [intentionally] hurt one of these little ones. [Luke 17:2]

What our country has done to these babies and toddlers is unconscionable. Over 2,000 children are now being detained, separated by age and sex in detention centers, many in secret locations. The damage to these children is irreversible. Even if they are reunited with their families, and that is a big if, since, according to Wendy Young, President of Kids n Need Defense Group, there is no evidence of a system in place to accomplish this and it is a very chaotic process at best.  [USA Today June 22, 2018]

These children will live the rest of their lives with a pain they cannot identify. Some of the older children may have behavior issues, learning disabilities and develop addictions. Don’t take my word for it, read what Dylan Gee, a psychologist who studies how trauma and stress affect children’s development has to say on the topic. I’m extremely concerned about the long-term impact of the Trump administration’s actions on these kids’ well-being.  In the long run, the cascade of consequences places individuals who have experienced early trauma at risk for academic or occupational failure, substance abuse, and health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.”  [VOX  June 20th]

As for the politics of this debacle, it is no secret that our president is driving this boat. Even though he signed an Executive Order to stop the separation of families he along with Attorney General Jeff Sessions created the problem.  And over the past few months they have made it clear what their agenda is. They want to send a message to those who are trying to cross our border from Mexico that you are not only “not welcome here” but we, the U.S., will make you suffer greatly if you even try to come in.  They calculated wrongly, I might add, that the country and the world would stand by quietly while they held children in cages as hostages and political bargaining tools. Now the Republicans and Democrats will not work together, as they should, to get anything meaningful and lasting accomplished with immigration reform. Many Republicans refuse to sign any bill that would alleviate the situation if it does not include billions in funding for Trump’s coveted WALL, which, by the way, Mexico was supposed to pay for.  And Democrats act like they are helpless, blaming everything on the Republicans who are in the majority.  “There’s no need for [immigration] legislation, there’s no need for anything else,”
Senate Minority Leader  Chuck Schumer told a reporter, saying that the president broke it now he can fix it. Meanwhile the children suffer.

You may ask, how did this situation get so bad, so fast, and why would anyone travel thousands of miles through Mexico with their children to come to the U.S. This is nothing new. There have been thousands of immigrants coming to this country from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras for decades, but in March of this year, a caravan of over 1,600 migrants, most of them from Honduras, headed north toward our borders, driven out by the escalation of gang violence, homicides and civil instability. In response to this new crisis, in April  the Trump Administration changed the border policy from Catch and Release,  to Zero  Tolerance,  which means 100% prosecution, with children being taken from their families so the adults can be jailed, charged, sentenced and/or deported separately.  Prior to this change, children were not separated from their families and they were allowed to return to Mexico without criminal charges, a procedure called voluntary departure, according to this NPR June 19th online story.

As for the second part of the question, why these families are leaving their homes to make the journey north?  Well imagine living in a place where your son could be stolen and recruited into a gang like MS13 or murdered if he does not comply, where your young daughter is in constant danger of being raped or kidnapped, even worse becoming a victim of human trafficking. Add on top of the safety issues, you must cope daily with severe poverty and deprivation.  I cannot guess what goes through these migrants’ minds as they make the arduous and expensive journey toward the U.S. But maybe they feel that even the worse we have to throw at them is better than what their future holds if they stay. And maybe they believe that once they are here their children will have a future of hope. Isn’t that all any of us wants, our children to live in safety and have a better life, to not only prosper but to have joy and hope in their lives. Our country used to be that place. The image of the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of that hope, but now it will be replaced with images of children in cages. I am not sure that God’s blessing is still on the USA, as we often pray, but we sure can use his mercy right now.

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