Compassion on our southern border

To the editor:

On Fathers Day, 2018, I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a place that contrasted with the culture and geography of the Copper Country. While NM is in fact distinctly different from home, it was the same in one obvious respect: Most of the tourists, and many of the locals, looked just like me. They were relaxed, prosperous, retirement-aged, white people. We were all living with the happy assumptions that white privilege confers.

It isn’t the Acoma pottery and silver jewelry in stores, nor is it the arid, southwestern vistas that haunt my memories of that trip, however. It is the radio reports of family separations at America’s southern border we listened to as we rode north beside the Rio Grande River toward Taos in our air-conditioned rental car. It is the freeze-framed image of a lovely brown-skinned mother, and her three-year old son wrapped together in a Santa Fe café. They caught my attention vis á vis what was happening to migrant brown-skinned people a few miles to the south. Their soft eyes, entwined limbs. Their affectionate smiles. Their close, warm bond. This is mother-child connection, I thought. This is love and beauty and everything humans need to thrive. As I watched them I imagined what this pair would be going through in this very moment were they attempting to find asylum in this land of the free that claims to be a refuge to those from lands of oppression, hardship, and terror: a large, uniformed border guard looms toward the pair, reaching out to snatch the boy. The boy’s eyes widen in panic, welling with tears. He screams. His mother’s face, contorts in outrage, disbelief, and grief. Her heart is breaking as she thinks, “Why are they taking my baby, where is he going, how will I find him?”

“Dámelo a mí!!” she screams. She tries to hold her child, but she is exhausted and weak, and the officer is strong and determined, loyal to his border patrol charge. He wrestles the child away from his mother and quickly disappears. The mother, I imagine, continues to wail, struggling against another guard. I know there is almost no way for mother and child ever to be reunited. How do asylum workers track seekers’ identities given this chaotic situation? And, I think, if they survive and are reunited, they will live their lives in trauma and grief. What kind of world are Americans making when we condone these border policies, practices, and conditions?

Consider yourself in the migrant’s situation. Terrified and terrorized, you flee your home country; you travel toward a land where the citizens have precious rights and unalienable freedoms. They will protect you and your child will survive and thrive. You dare to dream that someday you will become prosperous. But upon reaching your destination, your saviors transform into captors. Your child is stolen, and you are thrust into chaos and fear. Again.

What has been going on at our southern border is inexcusable. It’s wrong. It has to stop.

Americans are better than this. Americans are a compassionate people, aren’t they?

Compassion–rather than racist cruelty–can inform our asylum policy, as it has in the past (usually). Compassion is the antidote to hatred and oppression. Can we support our government when it enacts cruel policies that traumatize asylum seekers? I can’t. I don’t think you can either; not if you call yourself American.