Few scenes tear at our hearts more than watching children being forcefully taken from their mothers. Hearing the terrified cries and screams of small children and their mothers. In the days after World War II, newsreel clips such scenes in the Holocaust threw us into shock and despair as we witnessed this most cruel of acts. Later, movies such as Schindler’s List plunged us once more into such scenes, and again we wept, and we renewed our vow.
“Never again,” we said.
But today, as Americans and the rest of the world watch in shock and helpless rage, U.S. border authorities are tearing children from their parents. Separating children from their parents is not new, as historian Rebecca Erbelding writes in The Washington Post:
“In the early 1940s, the United States Committee for the Care of European Children (USCOM) focused on separating refugee children from their parents as a last resort to save them from the Holocaust. This stands in stark contrast to today, when separation is being used as a punishment for parents seeking safety for their families. Rather than being guided by the principles that drove the USCOM effort, such as compassion, the Trump Administration is instead acting with cruelty — a path that threatens horrific consequences like those USCOM tried to prevent.”
In the early days of World War II, Americans working in France made the agonizing decision to separate Jewish children from their parents. Erbelding quotes one such American: “Here were we, perfect strangers having put in our charge the dearest thing a mother and a father own, just because we represented that country which has always stood for liberty, and equality, and the rights of the individual … which was now opening its homes as haven for the young children of the coming generation in Europe.”
And we all said never again will such separation tear apart families experiencing persecution. In 1967 the United Nations passed a Refugee Protocol, which the United States signed in 1968, stipulating that refugees fleeing violence have the right to asylum. Then in 1980, the United States itself enacted the Refugee Settlement Act, which listed our country’s commitment to its responsibilities under the UN protocol.
But that’s not what we’re doing now as our president is doing all he can to keep families in places of danger and violence rather than offer safety to those who qualify as legitimate refugees. He is separating children from their parents to punish them. For what?
Last Sunday, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, was turned away when he tried to enter a federal facility in Texas where immigrant children were being held. According to the Associated Press article, Merkley said he was able to enter another facility used for processing migrants and run by the Department of Homeland Security. He said he saw men, women and children crowded in cages. “It reminds me a little bit of a dog kennel, constructed of Cyclone fencing,” Merkley said. Some of the areas contained men, while others had only women and some had women holding children, he was quoted as saying.
Later in an interview, Merkley said this to a reporter: “The administration has started ripping these children out of the arms of their parents. That is completely outside the soul of our nation, where virtually all of us have family history, in one branch or another, where somebody fled persecution to come to the U.S.”
True. We are all immigrants. And we said never again.