Bhadri Durgabakshi ·
Life has a strange way of teaching lessons to those fortunate enough to have one. At 28 years, I was suddenly faced with the prospect of raising a baby on my own, in a new country, and carve a path to independence. This meant that I had to leave my infant son at the daycare while I worked. Not having had adequate time to prepare him for this phase, he experienced immense separation anxiety. While the separation was traumatic for both of us, we both knew that at the end of the day we would be together. That was a future we could count and rely on, as certainly as the sun would rise the next day.
This is not the future that more than 11,000 immigrant kids (under the age of 13), being held in detention centers can count on today, in the most civilized of nations. Their parents will not be there to take them home at the end of the day and comfort them. Their parents have not prepared these children to operate without them, because there was no need to. They were taken away suddenly on false pretexts. These children are held in rooms next to their parents, and they can hear their wailing and screams. This is absolutely cruel and inhumane, and cannot be accepted as normal treatment of human beings, in this day, in a country that prides itself as protecting its most weak and vulnerable.
My gut wrenches when I hear news stories about these children languishing in detention camps, where no one is allowed to even hug or comfort them. Society recognizes that minors are incapable of operating as viable human beings and need adults to provide for their basic needs. A pediatrician being interviewed today on NPR recalls a little girl, not more than 2 years of age, having an epic meltdown, in the detention center. She was missing her parents and was inconsolable. The pediatrician was not allowed to hug or comfort her, as this is against federal agency rules, she was told. Two siblings aged 6 and 10 have been prevented from hugging each other. They were doing so to comfort each other, in the absence of their parents. The pediatrician talked about permanent effects on brain development being caused to children who suffer such extreme anxiety and trauma. In which world are we living in now? We live in a country where an adult is not able to pick up a baby to comfort her? And, there are federal regulations stipulating these inhuman decrees. Have we lost all inklings of humanity?
When my son was in daycare, I relied on the goodness of others – day care workers and other parents to comfort my baby. When he was a toddler, I used to peep from outside after dropping him off, and see him approaching other parents with his hands raised, wanting to be carried. And they did. I recall in particular, the well-dressed young father who had just dropped off his twin sons at the daycare. After kissing them goodbye, as he was heading to the door, he stopped to pick my son. My son was approaching this father with his hands up in the air, beseeching to be carried. Maybe this human connection was the reassurance this toddler was seeking to assure him that the world is a safe place. I am forever grateful to these adults who responded to the needs of an innocent child without any qualms or considerations. My son relied on the goodness of adults and these adults responded with the goodness that was the basic operating expectation of a human being.
Imagine these immigrant children being deprived of even this notion of a good and just world. Their basic trust in humanity is being shattered moment by moment. These immigrant parents cannot even rely on other adults to interact in a normal, decent, moral and humane manner towards their children. Have we descended to such depressing levels that even animals will not live by the standards we have set for ourselves? A she-wolf brought comfort to the abandoned twins, Romulus and Remus (the legendary founders of Rome), according to ancient folk lore. There are no words to describe the abyss of moral degradation we have allowed ourselves to sink into. I can’t imagine the pain of the little girl whom society betrayed, by not hugging her and telling her that everything was going to be alright. We have all made it so far in life because most adults in our lives acted like adults and provided hope and comfort when we were little. And now we operate as if we have a choice to withhold empathy, caring and concern for fellow humans. This is not a matter of choice – it is a biological and instinctive reaction. What is the point of life if we are devoid of this basic instinct that forms our life principle?
What is happening now is totally inhumane and my heart is heavy as I write this. I realize that if I remain quiet, I am also part of the problem and guilty by complacence. “But for the grace of God, go we,” is the common saying. Anyone of us could be in those immigrants’ shoes. In fact we or our forefathers were in those shoes when we arrived here (except for the Native Americans). The perpetrators are using moral arguments and even Biblical quotations to support this crime against humanity – the same arguments that were used to support slavery. The perpetrators are parents themselves. On this Father’s Day I hope that when these perpetrators hug their children they will feel moral discomfort and shame knowing that thousands of fathers are unable to hug their children today. But I ask for too much, because moral conscience is obviously absent in people who behave in this manner. The Bible also talks about the sins of fathers visiting upon their children. I hope they realize this biblical admonition at least.
Did you know that the private prison company which provided generously to the current President’s election campaign is working with GOP lawmakers to accredit these detention facilities as daycare centers? This is proving to be a lucrative money-making venture built on the tears and blood of innocent victims. Adding to their tragedy, these victims are being taunted daily by high-ranking officials that they may never see their children again. These children languishing in detention centers need more than our thoughts and prayers to restore their trust in the goodness of humanity. These families have already been in desperate situations when they landed at our doorstep. They had nothing but each other. Taking away this last vestige of stability in their lives is not the path to making America great again. Let’s not add to their miseries in this horrible and cruel manner.
We need to stop this insanity now. I am making this appeal to your humanity no matter what your political affiliations may be. We are all humans first. Let’s not allow politics to inhibit our ability to be human. So please write to your elected officials tomorrow and ask them to stop this crime against humanity.
(Bhadri Durgabakshi is a US resident who was earlier a Journalist on “The Island” in Sri Lanka)