This picture breaks my heart and makes me furious. I saw it yesterday morning and, since then, there’s been an update that she’s been reunited with her family. And I am glad to hear that. But, that doesn’t make this a happy story.
This is how you mess kids up. The idea that “their parents did this to them” is a cold-heartedly callous claim. These are kids. To go to your first day of school and at the end of that first day, when you’re excited to tell your parents all about your day, to find out that your parents have been taken away and no one can tell you where they are or what’s going to happen to you or them is beyond cruel. It’s inhumane. You don’t do this to kids.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience of not knowing where your parents are after school. The closest I can get to that is, when I was 9, I got off the bus with my older brother and younger sister and we were met at the bus stop by our neighbors. My Mom had rushed to the hospital to be with my Dad who had just had a severe heart attack and was in a coma fighting for his life. We didn’t know that as we met our neighbors. All we knew was that Dad was sick and Mom went to be with him. But, there was a sinking feeling, an awareness that something was off, something was never going to be the same. And, yet, my siblings and I were lucky. We had loving neighbors surrounding us and we spoke to my Mom on the phone a few hours later. But, I can tell you that just those few hours of not knowing, of being separated from your parents (even when you’re surrounded by loving family friends) scars. It hurts deep. It takes years to trust that you can let go of your Mom or Dad’s hand and know that you’re going to see them again. It takes years to understand that just because someone is 2, 3, 4, or 5 minutes late doesn’t mean that they’re never coming home again.
This photo shatters me. I can feel her abandonment. And it’s different than mine because the country she lives in is not safe for her. She can feel that. Our president is making her feel that. We’re making her feel that.
That morning she got ready for school, probably specially picked out the cute outfit she’s wearing. Excited to set foot in a new classroom, in a new grade. Excited to be growing up. Or maybe she was a little nervous that morning and had to be reassured by her Mom or Dad that she was going to have fun and meet so many friends. And she let go of her Mom or Dad’s hand, stepped into that classroom and waved goodbye to her parents. Then, the door closed and we took her childhood away.
Some big-hearted strangers did the best they could to comfort her. But, they and that little girl know that all she wants is to be held by parents. We took that from her.
That is shamefully inhumane. Kids should not be treated this way. If you think this is an acceptable byproduct of combating illegal immigration, you don’t deserve to have the power to make that decision.
This girl’s parents and the 678 other workers arrested at seven Mississippi poultry processing plants are not dangerous criminals. And they didn’t covertly walk into those plants and work tirelessly for years without anyone knowing. Someone hired them, someone owns the factories that these people work in. If the crimes of the illegal immigrant workers are so heinous that they have to be hauled off so dramatically, shouldn’t the people who hired them and the people who own the facilities be hauled off with hands zip-tied behind their backs, too? Shouldn’t their children be left abandoned and crying after their first day of school, too?
It is important to understand that, in the history of our government, our implementation and use of the term “illegal alien” stems from racism. The first time our nation began using this phrase was to block Chinese people from immigrating here. White Americans were afraid that an influx of Chinese immigrants in the late 19th century would take away hard jobs and/or the influx of Chinese would pollute the purity of the white societal bloodline. So, legislation was put in place to ban Chinese immigrants from entering the country. Other Asian countries were eventually added to this list and bans in some form toward Asian immigrants stood in place until the early 1950s. In between those years, other races and nationalities were targeted as well. But, if you’re one of those white Anglo people touting proudly that your ancestors didn’t have it easy, but “they came here legally,” I urge you to take a look at the policies in place when your ancestors arrived. The United States had nearly open borders until the mid-1920s. That’s not to say that the lives white ancestors left behind weren’t hard or that their passage here wasn’t hard or that they didn’t face bigotry and hardship as a new immigrant in America, but it is to say that the idea of them getting into this country “legally” was, in fact, easier for them than for people of color.
As a country, we have continually wielded the label of "illegal alien" towards people we deem as undesirable. So, we shut the door on them while holding it wider open for who we deem desirable. Often, those we deem as undesirable are the immigrants who the Statue of Liberty calls out to the most: the tired, the poor, the immigrants fleeing war and poverty and trying to create a better life for their children. And this undesirability is most often directed at people of color.
Because these undesirable illegal aliens are hungry to work, hungry to start anew, hungry to provide, hungry to give a better life to their children, they are easy targets. So, politicians and corporations and angry citizens make the illegal aliens into enemies and put the blame on them for what’s crumbling around us instead of fixing what’s actually wrong with our country. We say that they are leeching off our system, even though they are ineligible to receive welfare or just about any other benefit from our public programs (this includes DACA recipients) and there is no evidence to prove the contrary. We say that they are not paying taxes, even though the records clearly show that they are paying billions in federal, state and local taxes. We treat these illegal aliens as if they are destroying our country instead of adding to it. And, in viewing them as undesirable, we treat them and their children as if they are not deserving of human decency.
So, we leave this little girl broken, alone and sobbing on the floor as if she brought this day upon herself.