My three-year-old woke from a long, cozy night’s sleep in her bed. I was there when she woke up, and a slow smile spread across her pillow-creased cheek. “Mama…” she sighed. She searched for her blankie and favorite stuffed animals and a few good books. She climbed into my lap with all her lovies, and we cuddled and rocked until she was ready to get out of bed.
No one saw her picture, alone and crying in a jail cell, and responded with, “Fuck no, why isn’t that an electric cage?” Or “Yes. 100% ok with it. I hope he lets me know if he needs help rounding more of the fuckers up.”
My six-year-old woke from his own deep sleep in the middle of the night. His normally sweet dreams were peppered with nightmares because of a busy week and a busy brain. He called for me, and I stumbled into his room. His quick breathing slowed as I stroked his sweaty hair. “Mama…” he mumbled as he drifted back into his safe slumber.
No one saw him being taken from my arms, helpless and afraid, and asked, “Why isn’t anyone poking him in his stupid face with a stick?” or “What’s that thing doing without a muzzle?”
When they woke, neither of my children even questioned why I wasn’t there. Neither of them was left alone to cry without me. Neither of them was searching for my familiar face, only to discover that they were all alone. Waking up alone. Going to sleep alone. Crying alone. Neither was the unwitting victim of bigotry, hatred and abuse.
There’s a reason it is against the law for me to leave my three-year-old and a six-year-old home alone, even while they’re sleeping. They’re children. They rely on adults to keep them safe. And they rely on the adults who know them best to greet them when they wake up and guard them against all of life’s nightmares. Without realizing it, they also rely on the rest of humanity and its collective basic decency to be sure they are never left lonely and afraid.
We live in a comfortable home in a safe neighborhood. My children hop on their bikes at all hours of the day and travel alone to parks and friends and adventures. They would be devastated if we ever took them from away their home—away from their beds and their friends and their routines and their warm and comfortable sense of place.
But my children are privileged little white people. So that will never happen.
Because we don’t live in a place where war and famine and unspeakable violence make uprooting our entire family seem like the better option.
And we don’t live in a place where fear of the unknown is preferable to the horrors that surround us every day.
But we do live in a place that punishes people who are left with no other choice than to flee home and choose the unknown. A place that willingly separates a three-year-old and a six-year-old from their parents who are attempting to flee unspeakable violence. A place that would leave my three-year-old to fend for herself and would ignore the cries of my six-year-old waking from a nightmare, all in an utterly misguided attempt to deter other families from seeking refuge.
This is not a policy that has been in place for years. In the last two months alone, over 2,000 children—possibly many more—have been separated from their parents. But its inception is irrelevant. The time to end it is now.
This is also not a policy that does anything to deter undocumented immigration. If it was, the rates of separated and incarcerated families would be decreasing. But wars and famine and violence are ever-present dangers in other countries, so families continue to seek asylum here. They will always do whatever is necessary to journey to this land that once claimed to welcome the tired, the poor, the hungry masses yearning to breathe free.
But this is a policy that blatantly discriminates against families of color in a racist attempt to give uncomfortable white people a false sense of security.
This is a policy that removes children from parents who have committed a misdemeanor offense, at worst. Imagine the outcry if my children were taken from me while I was detained in a federal detention center because I jaywalked through my lily white suburban neighborhood.
Most importantly, this is a policy that must change.
Feminist parents must stay angry. We must continue to raise our hands and speak up and get comfortable with making other people uncomfortable. We must continue to make calls—to our representatives and to ICE and to the White House and to leadership in Congress—and we need to question authority as loudly as we can, marching in the streets with our own children at our sides.