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We Are Ripping Young Children From Their Mother's Arms. This Is Who We've Become

A Central American child who is traveling with a caravan of migrants, peers at the border wall from a bus carrying the group to a gathering of migrants living on both sides of the border, in Tijuana, Mexico, Sunday, April 29, 2018. U.S. immigration lawyers are telling Central Americans in a caravan of asylum-seekers that traveled through Mexico to the border with San Diego that they face possible separation from their children and detention for many months. They say they want to prepare them for the worst possible outcome. (Hans-Maximo Musielik/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
A Central American child who is traveling with a caravan of migrants, peers at the border wall from a bus carrying the group to a gathering of migrants living on both sides of the border, in Tijuana, Mexico, Sunday, April 29, 2018. U.S. immigration lawyers are telling Central Americans in a caravan of asylum-seekers that traveled through Mexico to the border with San Diego that they face possible separation from their children and detention for many months. They say they want to prepare them for the worst possible outcome. (Hans-Maximo Musielik/AP)

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In January of this year, a 29-year-old woman fled Honduras with her 18-month-old baby, after the government teargassed her home. Fearing for her life, she traveled north and presented herself to immigration officials in Brownsville, Texas, seeking asylum.

According to court documents filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) informed the woman, named Miriam, that her son would be separated from her. When Miriam asked why, the officers would not provide a reason.

Instead, they ordered her to place the child in a government vehicle. “My son was crying as I put him in the seat,” Miriam recalled. “I did not even have a chance to try to comfort my son, because the officers slammed the door shut as soon as he was in his seat.”

Miriam was then placed in a detention center. She had no idea where her son was sent, and wasn’t allowed to speak to him.

The official explanation for these events is that Miriam and her son had broken the law by crossing into the U.S. illegally. This is nothing new. For decades, women such as Miriam have fled violence in their homelands, seeking asylum.

One woman from the Congo was separated from her 7-year-old daughter, whom she could hear in the next room wailing, “Mommy, don’t let them take me.”

They don’t sneak into America to take someone’s job, or to live off the fat of the welfare state. They come to avoid being persecuted and killed. For reasons clear to anyone with a functioning conscience, they bring their children. They are part of the “huddled masses” who openly throw themselves on the mercy of the United States.

For this reason, previous administrations pursued a practice known as “catch and release.” When a parent with a child crossed the border, they were either deported together or freed together to pursue their civil immigration cases. The idea was to focus limited resources on potential criminals, not women and children fleeing danger.

Under the current administration, the policy is to separate all children from their parents. Despite the president’s predictable efforts to lie about this, he has personally chided the Department of Homeland Security for not being aggressive enough.

The stories that are beginning to emerge, like Miriam’s, represent a humanitarian crisis. One woman from the Congo was separated from her 7-year-old daughter, whom she could hear in the next room wailing, “Mommy, don’t let them take me.” The woman was sent to a detention center in San Diego. She was told her daughter was sent to Chicago, though she had no idea what “Chicago” was.

Last year, a 28-year-old Guatemalan father was arrested and his toddler was placed in a federal shelter. Three months later, the man was deported. He pleaded with authorities to deport his child, as well. Instead, he was told, his child was “somewhere in Texas.”

When an administration official openly mocks the idea that the Statue of Liberty represents a beacon of hope to the world’s “huddled masses,” it’s not just a jarring moment on cable news.

It represents a concerted effort to dehumanize people who are not American, to reduce them, as a group, to the status of criminals, or animals.

Not only is this new policy cruel, but it’s being executed by an administration whose hallmark has been reckless incompetence. It should come as no surprise that the Department of Homeland Security has lost track of nearly 1,500 children remanded to their custody. This is not to mention the reports of widespread abuse among minors detained by ICE.

In this Dec. 15, 2015, photo, Marleny Gonzalez, left, looks at her 4-year-old daughter, Jenifer at a shelter in Reynosa, Mexico, where they are living after trying to cross into the U.S. Gonzalez said her daughter suffered two broken legs when a truck they were traveling in overturned on the journey from Guatemala. (Seth Robbins/AP)
In this Dec. 15, 2015, photo, Marleny Gonzalez, left, looks at her 4-year-old daughter, Jenifer at a shelter in Reynosa, Mexico, where they are living after trying to cross into the U.S. Gonzalez said her daughter suffered two broken legs when a truck they were traveling in overturned on the journey from Guatemala. (Seth Robbins/AP)

Please try to imagine, for just a moment, that these children were white Americans, and that they were being separated from their white American parents at a foreign border, because those parents had decided to flee danger.

How would most Americans regard the government of that foreign country? What term would we use to describe their actions? I suspect we would call them a terrorist state, and we would describe their actions as state-sanctioned kidnapping.

Perhaps this is why, last year, a veteran ICE officer gave a lengthy interview to a journalist in which he summed up the ethos of this administration, when it comes to immigration. “The whole idea is targeting kids.”

This administration’s purported goal is to deter illegal immigration, with no distinction made for those seeking asylum. The rules are as indiscriminate as they are heartless. ICE now rips terrified young children away from their parents. How’s that for family values?

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Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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