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Wake up to the barbarism of our country’s immigrant family separation policy

Image for Immigration Column - Sam Aftel .jpg

Wake up, Princetonians. Wake up, America. Wake up to the state terror that is happening every single day in the United States. 

Since October 2017, the Trump administration has forcibly separated at least 2,000 undocumented immigrant children from their parents at the Mexican-American border. Many of these children are currently in custody in detention centers — where conditions are reportedly despicable and inhumane. Of course, this is consistent with the Trump administration’s ongoing debasement of our most vital American ideals, furthering its xenophobic, racist, misogynistic, and Islamophobic agenda.


But the family separation policy is the most atrocious and repugnant policy of the Trump presidency to date, and we must fight for the immediate and permanent release and familial reunification of every single child who has been separated and detained by the U.S. government without due process. Anything less leaves us to be guilty bystanders to the political and moral decay of our country.  

Separating children from their parents — unless, of course, the parents are abusive or negligent, which is predominantly not the case here — is fundamentally wrong. In fact, such separation can severely traumatize children

On a legal level, too, this policy is abominable. In fact, MSNBC reported that “91% of parents who were referred for prosecution after having their children forcibly taken from them were only being charged with a misdemeanor, which is first time illegal entry [into the United States].”

Therefore, it is unprecedented and senseless to separate children, for an indefinitely long time, from parents who are charged with only a misdemeanor for a first-time offense that is wholly irrelevant to their treatment of their children. To make matters worse, “Advocates [of immigration justice] say no systematic policies exist to ensure families don’t lose each other after the separation,” according to the Houston Chronicle

Further, the physical way in which children are separated from their parents by law enforcement is as disturbing as the draconian policy itself. For example, a Honduran mother reported that her infant daughter was taken from her as she was breastfeeding the child. Yes, you read correctly, that happened in the United States of America in 2018. “Land of the free,” right?  

Other media have depicted children crying while being separated from their parents, and, as Liz Goodwin of the Boston Globe reported via Twitter, “some migrants are told their kids are going to be taken away briefly to bathe, and then it dawns on them hours later they aren’t coming back.” This exemplifies fascist totalitarianism at its most ruthless, unhinged level: that is, deceptively upending reality to terrorize children.  


Although family separation is not murderous genocide, the “we are just taking them to bathe” tactic is chillingly reminiscent of the way Nazis during the Holocaust told people in concentration camps that they were going to have a shower before they were gassed to death.

Moreover, family separation has not only impacted the children that are separated and detained, but their parents as well. In one particularly horrific case, “[a] Honduran immigrant reportedly took his own life while in custody after his wife and child were separated from him at the U.S.-Mexico border,” according to The Hill.  

Many Americans are starting to ask, “How could this happen in our country?” The question we should be asking, though, is: “How could we have let this happen in our country?” 

Nearly half of the U.S. electorate (including a staggering 57 percent of white U.S. citizens) voted for Donald Trump to be president in 2016 — despite his bragging about groping women without their consent, labeling undocumented Mexican immigrants as “rapists,” advocating for political violence, supporting a ban on Muslim immigration to the United States, and relentlessly threatening to build a wall to keep out undocumented immigrants, many of whom are harmless families seeking a better life for their children. 

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Consequently, it is no wonder that now our country’s federal government — under the Trump administration — is participating in state terror, without any end in sight. In fact, we should have expected this atrocity and proactively worked against it. But we have disgracefully done little, if anything, to combat this tragedy.  

Shame on us for our ignorance, disengagement, and moral indifference; there is blood on all of our hands. 

Nevertheless, we can redeem ourselves and upend this categorical evil. We can support the numerous organizations that are fighting family separation, such as the ACLU. We can also contact our elected representatives and urge them to stand up against this government-sanctioned cruelty. We can vote in the 2018 midterm elections for candidates who unequivocally oppose family separation and will actively and relentlessly fight for the end of the policy; and most importantly, we can vote Donald Trump out of office in the 2020 presidential election.

Despite the family-separation policy — and more broadly, the election of Donald Trump — I still, perhaps naively, have faith in this country. Americans have ultimately rooted out many institutional atrocities in their nation: slavery, Jim Crow, male-only suffrage, marriage inequality, and far more. Therefore, I hope — in fact, I beg — all of us to rise up, realize our national ideals of justice, compassion, and equality, and endlessly protest for the end of family separation. 

Andrew Sullivan, a conservative, no less, asserted in a recent New York Magazine column condemning family separation and the political disengagement of far too many Americans, “Every day we numb ourselves to these core violations of decency, America dies a little.” 

Let’s bring our country back to life.