If the image of toddlers being ripped from their parents’ arms and kept in cages does not convince us that refugees, whether political or economic, are human beings and not criminals to be further brutalized by armed military enforcement, what will? People who try to immigrate to the US by physically arriving at our borders rather than futilely filing forms while they are attacked or starved in their own countries do not need to be countered with machine guns. They need help. That help can take the form of working to improve conditions in their own countries, so that they aren’t forced to leave their homes in desperation. Or it can take the form of finding them a place in our own communities to start a new life. Or both. It’s a serious and complex problem that deserves our lawmakers’ grave, dedicated, and generous attention, not the brutal horror of the current actions of our government.
Members of the Trump administration, including the attorney general and Trump’s chief of staff, have publicly argued that the vicious practice of forcibly separating families, with no guarantee of reuniting them regardless of the outcome of their parents’ cases, is somehow necessary because it will be a deterrent to others considering fleeing to the US. And indeed, families may think twice about running terrified for their lives toward yet another set of men threatening them with guns and causing them to lose loved ones, potentially forever. History will view this as a further black episode in a long history of racist policies of separating non-white families. But those running to our borders for sanctuary also know some other things about our history: that it is filled with stories of citizens of all colors standing up against the most horrific policies of their government to insist on justice; that it is a place built by people like themselves who fled their own countries and labored hard to make a better life for their children; that we are better than this. We must prove them right. That starts with ending this atrocity of family separation at the border and continues with dismantling ICE and reframing our immigration debate as an economic and social issue and not a military one. These children are not our enemies.