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Lasting memory from border visit: the heartbreaking sobs of mothers | Opinion

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Washington, June 25, 2018 | comments
Written by Lois Frankel, Published in the Sun Sentinel

By now, most of America has heard of the Trump-induced crisis at our Mexican border. Mothers and fathers seeking refuge from persecution and extreme danger in neighboring Central American countries are being thrown into prison cells and their children stolen from their arms by the US federal government.

Over the weekend, I traveled with 25 of my Democratic colleagues to McAllen and Brownsville, Texas to see the impact of family separation caused by the President’s new “zero tolerance policy,” choosing to criminally prosecute any migrant crossing our border, even those seeking asylum and refuge.

As the granddaughter of immigrants and a mother, seeing it firsthand was heartbreaking. I will never forget the uncontrollable sobbing of dozens of mothers sitting in a cold holding area, dressed in blue jumpsuits, as they recounted the horror of being separated from their sons and daughters. These mothers traveled weeks through rough passage in order to save their children from unstable governments and neighborhoods filled with violent gangs and lawlessness. And once they arrived in America, they were locked in prison-like detention, unable to see or talk to their children. Many don’t even know their welfare or whereabouts.

One woman we met at the detention facility was told that while she went to court, her daughter would be taken by the government for 48 hours. Almost 30 days later she has spoken to her daughter once and doesn’t know where she is. But she’s the “lucky one,” because most parents have not even had any contact with their stolen child. And some detainees were deported back to their home country without their children. Many fear the same will happen to them.

As a result of this cruel and inhumane policy, more than 2,000 children remain separated from their parents. The trauma these children are experiencing according to pediatric experts can be severe – toxic stress, anxiety, nightmares, and physical pain – and can have lifelong consequences. Some were still nursing, as young as eight months old. I’m calling it government-inflicted child abuse.

After a fierce public outcry, Mr. Trump signed an Executive Order halting family separation. Yet there’s been no speedy process set in motion to return the children to their parents. As the zero tolerance policy stays in place, the Justice Department is directed to pursue a course to incarcerate children with their parents indefinitely. Even more concerning, Trump now tweets due process should be ended.

Sadly, Mr. Trump calls migrants crossing our borders infestations - falsely accusing them of being rapists and murderers. To be clear, I don’t argue with the need for an orderly process for persons seeking refuge and the need to keep our country safe. Yet what I saw in the cages at the detention centers I visited, and those moms with whom I spoke, was a sea of humanity and people desperate for a better life.

Make no mistake, we are fighting for the soul of our country. There are positive actions to take. Our federal government must immediately reunite the families we have torn apart. Congress should pass bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform that actually keeps families together. And we must step up efforts aimed at reducing oppressive conditions in countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

Mr. Trump apparently thinks he will create a red wave in the midterm elections by being tough on two-year olds. I believe Americans are greater than that and consider it immoral and contrary to our values for the most powerful nation on Earth to inflict such cruelty on the least powerful and most vulnerable people. I, for one, will not be silent until this brutality stops. All of us must continue to make our voices of outrage heard.

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