Anyone with any sense of decency has to be enraged at the Trump administration’s admission that it cannot find the parents of 545 immigrant children who were forcibly separated from them and remain locked up in detention camps on the southern border for more than a year.
I was barely nine when my mother was taken from me. She died suddenly and unexpectedly. On the day of her death a family friend found me on a makeshift softball field in a neighbor’s backyard. She took my hand and walked me home. I don’t recall if she told me that my mother had died from a stroke that morning, but as I walked into the house I immediately knew that something bad had happened. The house was full of neighbors and relatives sobbing and grieving. In the living room I saw my mother, laying lifeless on the couch. My father, crying uncontrollably, was kneeling on the floor at my mother’s side. In the next room I heard a neighbor on our phone telling the person on the other end that Kay Webb had died.
In that moment I decided that I wanted no part of looking at my lifeless mother. Nor did I want to watch my father, so devastated that he had no time to comfort me. For me the house had become a dead zone and I wanted out. So I left and walked the neighborhood, refusing to believe that my mother, the emotional center and primary caregiver of our family, the person who read me stories and tucked me in at bedtime, cooked the most delicious cookies, taffy, and warm rolls, took me to the beach on summer days, and so much more, was dead. No longer in my life. I was in shock, unable to emotionally make any sense of this rupture in my universe.
A few days later when we said goodbye to her at a funeral mass with an open casket and then buried her in the town cemetery, everything was still a blur to me. It felt unreal. Not surprisingly, the shock and trauma soon gave way to profound grief and aching loneliness, awful nightmares and long-term low-grade depression, and, not least, guilt and anger. The world had lost some of its wonder and joy.
Which brings me to the 545 children locked up and alone in detention centers at the border. The trauma, loneliness, abandonment, and fear that they are experiencing has to be of a much higher order of magnitude than what I experienced on that awful day decades ago. Not only do they fear that they will never see both parents again, but their living ties to familiar faces, places, and rites of passage have been severed as well.
When my mother died, I had my father and two older brothers in my life. I could climb into my grandmother’s bed when I had a nightmare. I could sleep over at one of my uncles’ whenever I wanted, drop in for hamburgers on Saturday at my cousin’s house, meet up with my friends at school or on a sport’s field, attend church with my neighbors and relatives, and celebrate my birthday with my friends and family. I could also listen to my mother’s friends tell stories about her and how proud she would be of me.
The children in holding cells at the border have none of these grounding moments. They are by themselves, with no familiar faces or places or rituals to give them comfort, hope, and a sense of stability and place. They have no emotional or material anchor. Nothing to cling to. They are powerless and detached from everything that gave their life meaning and joy. They are alone, terribly alone. What could be worse? What could be more terrifying? This has to end.
Luckily, we can do something about this. And soon. We can vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on November 3, who have promised to end this nightmare and return the children to their families. Not a minute too soon. Let’s vote and get out the vote.