A few weeks ago on Mother’s Day, I and about 20 other people took part in a demonstration against family separation and child detention. We stood with our signs in the park near the info booth in Lyndonville, striving to raise awareness that children are still being separated from their families at the border, and that children are being held in detention far beyond the 20 days prescribed by the Flores Agreement. We wanted to communicate that the trauma being inflicted on vulnerable asylum seekers is an ongoing injustice that US citizens need to be aware of.
We had some honks for the “Honk if you love immigrants” sign, and some people waved and smiled. Many drove by staring uncomfortably ahead. And as expected, there was also a lot of hostility, expressed primarily by gunning engines that blanketed us in foul fumes; one truck even spun out and almost caused an accident, the driver was apparently so riled up. A group of bikers with Bikers for Trump t-shirts went by, gunning the engines so loud they drowned out that little corner of the world for several minutes.
I’ve been thinking about all that anger, and remain sickened and saddened by it. To have such a reaction to the simple request that children and vulnerable families be protected seems to be hitting the bottom of the barrel. Are these people so utterly detached from their fellow human beings that even on the hallowed Mother’s Day this country goes wild over, they can’t muster a shred of sympathy for moms who’ve had their kids forcibly taken from them by the US government?
I know the arguments. “They should come here legally.” “They should apply for asylum along the way.” “Let’s take care of our own people first.” Experience has shown it is pointless to try and explain why these arguments are empty or fallacious. Let’s just ask: where is the humanity? When you angry engine-gunning-fume-belching people see a broken guy carrying his crying kid and begging for help, what exactly are you feeling? Is there just nothing there, nothing at all? The callousness is incomprehensible to me.
I was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon. We lived during the civil war through years of terror, anxiety, depression, horror. But it was our home. We didn’t WANT to leave. We HAD to. My Dad, who was American, was on a hit list. If he didn’t leave, he would have been kidnapped and probably murdered. He had no choice but to leave the home he loved so much. And we had no choice but to follow six months later, when we realized he was stuck in the States, unable to come back because it was too dangerous. It took ten years for me to adjust. Let me repeat, we didn’t want to leave our home. We had to leave. We have made a wonderful life here, and love where we are. But that doesn’t change that we were forced to emigrate back then: the pain is not forgotten
It is the same for all these people whose homes have turned against them, whose homes have driven them away. I think about how they’re fleeing violence, desperate for safety and security especially for their kids, and I wonder what would have happened had my Dad not had a US passport? If he was Lebanese and under the same threat? It’s just luck he had this document that got him to safety. Why is it that people who aren’t US citizens are being treated so cruelly, so grotesquely by the US government? It’s not about resources—there are plenty of resources to manage and help. There is just no will to do it. And when I see the hatred being directed at them—-when I remember the belching fumes and gunned engines that day—I feel sick in my soul. I think back to how frightened we were my dad’s last month in Beirut. How my dad had armed guards, how I heard our neighbor being kidnapped and can still hear the yelling in my head to this day, more than 30 years later. People raised here, unless they come from an inner city landscape, can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to live in war, to live in fear of violence, to be surrounded by death and destruction, and to be forced to leave the only home you’ve ever known, not because you want to, but because you have to. Flight is not a positive act. It’s not like taking a fun trip that you choose to take. It is desperate and terrible. We had it easy – very, very easy – by comparison, and even so it was very difficult and traumatizing. What the families at the border have endured to reach that point is truly unimaginable. They deserve every respect and kindness, and they deserve helping hands.
I am reaching out and asking all of you reading this to please, please, please open your hearts—these people need our help. They have legitimate, legal right to seek asylum here. The children being held in places like Homestead need to be released to sponsors or to smaller facilities that are regulated. They are kids, not criminals! They are here legally, no matter what warped information you’ve been fed: let me repeat, they are here legally. And besides that, they are human beings, kids who need kindness and nurturing, not prison.
Please take action. What is happening to migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees in the US is not only illegal, it is unconscionable. Legality shouldn’t even come into it. Common sense and common decency are all that’s needed to discern how wrong this is.
Some actions you can take:
Keep writing and calling your reps.
Support the grass roots and legal groups that are fighting these injustices every day.
Stay up to date on what is going on, engage your neighbors, friends, and relatives and encourage them to take action, too.
Patricia Ward is an author and artist living in East Burke.