A NUMBER OF YEARS AGO, we were in Prague, a lovely Czech city on the Vltava River. Near the river, there’s a museum that we will always remain indelibly printed on our minds. The museum featured the drawings of children who were taken with their parents by the Nazis when the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia back in the early 1940’s and sent to the Terezin concentration camp near Prague. At the camp, they were separated from their parents.
A few of the adult inmates of the camp, who had been teachers, organized the children into classes and had them draw pictures to express their thoughts and feelings. The pictures, stick figures that young children draw, were of their parents whom they no longer saw, of their homes, their beds, their pets. One showed a figure reaching out toward the sun. Others showed the barbed wire and watchtowers which was their current reality. Most of the children at the camp were eventually put to death.
We thought of this recently when The New York Times ran a story headlined “A 5-Year-Old Migrant’s Heartache: When Will I See My Papa?” accompanied by pictures of a child’s drawing of his migrant family that he’d been separated from at the southern border of our country.
So that we are not misunderstood, we do not in any way wish to compare what is taking place on our southern border with that horrendous chapter in human history that took place under the Nazis. What we are dealing with here is what is taking place in the minds of children forcibly separated from their parents and unable to understand why?
Seeking Asylum Is Not a Crime
What was their crime? Or the crime of their parents? Their parents’ crime is that they were fleeing from an intolerable situation in their Central American country in which criminal gangs were killing people who refused to join them, or women were taken as sex slaves for the gangs or abused by their husbands. They were fleeing with their children for their lives to a country they had heard had been a refuge for people like them and asking for asylum. This is not a crime in our country or most others.
Do we remember the words on the Statue of Liberty?:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Voices all across the country are now being raised against this heartless policy of greeting the “homeless, tempest-tossed” not by a “lamp beside the golden door” but by tearing their children away from them. Here we want to just cite the effects of what it does to the children, many of them babies and toddlers under the age of four.
He Was “Just Moaning and Moaning”
We’ll let the words of the people cited below speak for themselves. They are an eloquent testimony of the effects these policies have upon the children.
Margaret A. Sheridan (Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of North Carolina) & Charles A. Nelson (Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital) in an op-ed article, in The New York Times titled “How to Turn Children into Criminals, 5/31): “…the Trump administration has hit upon a policy that we know is likely to increase delinquency and criminality among these children in the future….If we have learned nothing else in the past 50 years of research on child development, it is that children do best in families and that violating this norm has terrible effects….The immigrant children taken from their parents are supposedly being sent to foster care, but many languish in shelters. All are situations where children are being housed away from loving, invested family members.”
A foster parent housing the child who drew the pictures of his family cited above: The first few nights, he cried himself to sleep. Then it turned into “just moaning and moaning.” He recently slept through the night for the first time, though he still insisted in tucking his family pictures under his pillow….(After he could speak to his parents by phone) “it triggered all the separation trauma again.” His foster mother tried to offer him toys but he erupted in anger, screaming and crying at the kitchen table for almost an hour. “It was really hard to watch. The look on his face was anguish”…When his fury subsided, the boy collapsed on the kitchen floor, still sobbing. “Mama, papa,” he said, over and over.
American Academy of Pediatrics: This policy can cause lifelong trauma in children. It is “harsh and counterproductive. AAP President Dr. Colleen Kraft said she was dismayed at its “sweeping cruelty.”
American Medical Association: The effects upon the children are “unnecessary distress, depression and anxiety.”
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D.-WA) after meeting with migrant women in a federal prison whose children were taken away from them (as quoted by op-ed columnist Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times, 6/12). In some cases, the women could hear their kids screaming in the next room.
US Senator Jeff Merkley (D.-OR) who visited the separate places where the parents and children were kept: “…this inflicts enormous trauma upon the children. In a strange new land with a new language, the only security the children have is to be with their parents. Experts tell us (not that we need experts to tell us) that this is causing huge emotional trauma.”
“Harming Children is Evil”
No one questions the need for an intelligent policy that controls the inflow of immigrants. And no one is advocating open borders. But, in Sen. Merkley’s words, “Harming children for any reason including for the purpose of discouraging persecuted families from seeking asylum is evil.”
Or in the words of a letter-to-the-editor of The New York Times, 6/8, “So, it has come to this: We have weaponized the callous traumatization of children in the name of promised immigration reform. Children have become acceptable collateral damage in a policy war. Are there no parents in this administration? Are there no parents in the Border Patrol? Are there no Trump supporters who are parents? How can anyone who has children justify this?