By Amanda Laughtland
As a 40-something woman whose relationship and family structures have never fit into the male- and heterosexual-focused model that continues to exist in the United States, I’ve learned over the years to appeal to people’s empathy and compassion when it comes to finding common understanding. Maybe we can apply this technique as we advocate for children who are currently being separated from their parents by agents of our federal government.
Most people can’t relate first-hand to the experience of falling in love with someone of the same sex. But ask them to imagine a situation in which they lack the familial/societal approval – or even the legal rights – to be with their partner and raise a family together if they so choose, and they can begin to imagine themselves in that situation and start to comprehend the pain caused by discrimination.
Likewise, many people don’t have first-hand experience of moving to the United States, but we often don’t have to look far into our family histories to find stories of immigrants who sought a better life for their loved ones. As I think of the cruel results of “zero tolerance” policies faced by people from Mexico and Central America who hope to build lives here today, more than thinking of my great-grandparents’ immigration stories, I keep reflecting on what I learned when I was a foster parent.
Children in foster care feel deep trauma as the result of events and other people’s choices which are completely outside of the children’s control. Though we may lament shortcomings of the foster system, we know there are social workers, court-appointed special advocates, teachers, foster parents, staff and volunteers in nonprofit agencies, and others working hard within this system to make efforts to help create safety and stability in children’s lives.
We shouldn’t punish children for the actions of their parents. Within the foster system, we do our best to try to help children recover from trauma as we support them in building a routine of “everyday” activities like eating healthy meals, getting plenty of rest, and having time to play. Countless resources are also applied toward working with parents if they are willing to seek rehabilitation, build parenting skills, and attempt to regain custody of their children if possible.
The actions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the criminalizing policies and rhetoric of government officials like the president and attorney general are not examples of doing our best to help children. Children being separated from their parents by ICE are experiencing intense trauma – identified as life-altering “toxic stress” by the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics – at the hands of our government. These children are being held in jail-ilke institutions, as witnessed and described by U.S. senators and other observers in recent news accounts.
Instead of trying to help traumatized children, the federal government is subjecting children to more intense and sustained pain. Protecting children shouldn’t be a partisan issue. I hope there is enough empathy and compassion left in our country today such that we can speak out together and end the cruel and needless separation of families.
The good news is that there are a number of local and national organizations involved in advocating for the safety and rights of immigrant children and families and/or raising awareness of issues of concern (such as harsh detainment conditions). These groups include the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Kids in Need of Defense, NWDC Resistance, and Refuse Fascism.