Protecting the physical, psychological, social, and emotional well-being of children is an absolute must. Do any of us disagree? Yet, when we bring ethnicity, religion, and politics into the discussion, we suddenly seem to lose our way. One fact is certain: child abuse is abhorrent, even criminal, and we are now seeing state sponsored child abuse, perpetrated by our own government.
Take two issues – one religious and one political. In recent decades, the issue of sexual abuse by clergy members has increasingly come to light. The church has condemned it, but, until recently, did little to stop it. The issue continues to plague the church. I have handled these types of cases; I wrote a book about the experience.
More recently, our current government and its leaders have taken up the practice of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border. The kids are placed in what the government is calling “shelters.” These “shelters” are nothing more than prisons for children, even babies, for the crime of having parents who dared to save these same kids from violence or abuse in their native lands. This cruel and inhumane practice must be called out for what it is: This is no less than government-sponsored child abuse.
On the surface, these two issues seem strikingly different. If we define the former as abuse, then what is the latter? When we look closely, the similarities are clear.
Our leaders claim that separating immigrant children from their parents is justified per a “zero tolerance” policy. They claim that laws mandate their behavior. There is no such law and even if one interprets the law to support the wrongdoing claimed by the Trump administration, a “zero tolerance” policy is never applied when a child is endangered. The only times when the phrase is associated with children are when their safety is at risk or when they are abused. Our leaders should have “zero tolerance” for child abuse, “zero tolerance” for tearing families apart at the border. Instead, the opposite is true. Have we lost our minds? No, we have lost our soul.
The Trump administration also claims that a separation measure is a tool used to discourage illegal immigration. Do not come here! Do not cross over! That is their message. And, as non-citizens, we are depriving them of their civil rights. Parents in prison in America are typically permitted visitation and information about their children’s status. At the border, parents are not granted those rights; children are kept in designated refugee facilities, then sent home or placed in foster care. Do we cut off a robber’s hands to discourage stealing? Do we leave a child to fend for himself to see whether he understands “stranger danger?”
Parents are the primary source of love and nurturing for a child. Perhaps the families came over by less-than-legal means, a separate issue worth discussing. But America, a beacon of freedom for many generations of oppressed immigrants from all over the world must have a better solution to the problem. America must be the moral leader of the free world. Children are taught to trust those with authority, even as they enter a new country. But when the highest authority in the land greets children by tearing them from the arms of their parents, they abuse their power and abuse these kids.
Separating children from their “criminal” parents has always been a common practice of authoritarian governments; Hitler, Stalin, and Franco are all known for having done so under the guise of protecting their country. The matter is made worse when such leaders concoct not only political but also religious justification for their actions. Some White House officials have cited the Bible as support for the separations, and it is a sad day when a book that serves as a moral compass for many people is falsely invoked in such a way. Religious conservatives (namely Catholics and Evangelicals) have denounced family separation, even citing the priority of “family unity” and calling its disruption “immoral.”
This brings me back to one of my earlier thoughts: how skewed are our nation’s priorities? When the crime is perpetrated by private citizens, i.e. church leaders, we are appalled. We call it abuse. When it is perpetrated by our elected government officials and applied to people who aren’t like us, we look the other way? In America? Call this what it is: It is abuse. We cannot condone one crime and turn away from or accept the other.
Are we fighting the right battle? The immigrants at our border are running from abuse. Let us not force them to run into it as well.