By Aryanna Berringer
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
Since April 2018, at least 2,000 children have been taken from their parents. These are families seeking asylum or just a better opportunity to provide for their families. They head to America because for generations we have been the beacon of hope, of promise of a better tomorrow for people just like this.
And why wouldn’t they come here. We have a giant statue in New York, telling them to come here. Lady Liberty is arguably the most recognized and famous woman in the world. She stands tall with a crown upon her head; facing the world. In one hand a torch lights the path to freedom; around her feet, broken shackles signifying the rejection of tyranny and oppression. But, if recent events at our borders are any indication, I’d say we are failing her miserably.
We’ve made strides as a nation since the Civil War. However, as a woman of color it’s hard not to see the parallels between the reason for that conflict and the act of separating children from their families when the reason for doing so by our government is described as a so-called “service” to our nation.
Today is World Refugee day and the point of the day is to highlight the struggles facing refugees. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo smugly celebrated this morning telling the world, “we will continue to help the world’s most vulnerable refugees, reflecting the deeply held values of the American people.” Having the audacity to say something like that while our government forcibly separates families is unconscionable.
Under a zero-tolerance policy announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on April 6, Department of Homeland Security officials have been directed to refer all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution. Now, human rights organizations, including the United Nations, have argued that prosecuting asylum seekers criminally violates international law.
It gets worse.
The way that children are held in cages across the border and are being treated is the true crime. The ACLU obtained documents through the Freedom of Information Act and the charges are staggering . The allegations include: punching a child’s head three times, running over a 17-year-old with a patrol vehicle, denying detained children permission to stand or move freely for days, threatening children who stood up with transfer to solitary confinement in a small, freezing room, and subjecting a 16-year-old girl to a search in which they “forcefully spread her legs and touched her private parts so hard that she screamed ”
Then there are the stories of both the breastfeeding mother from Honduras whose infant was taken from her while she was feeding in a detention center. And a father who committed suicide in a Texas jail cell after his wife and children were taken from him.
As a mom of three children, I am horrified.
The Trump Administration is full of bullies and this zero-tolerance policy is not born out of any high-minded legal strategy. You’re not going to see any Constitutional-law attorneys out on book-signing and lecture tours in the coming months taking credit for this one. And as of this writing, not one member of the administrtion has resigned over thee policies. We’ve watched this Administration institute these deplorable policies time and time again. These atrocities further demonstrate how Donald Trump continues to use scare tactics to bully people all over the world.
We’ve got to stop separating families and it will take all of us to make sure that happens. This Friday, June 22, there is a rally at the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg to educate people on what is happening on the border and to support Casa San Jose, a non-profit organization based in Pittsburgh that serves immigrant communities. Additionally, larger rallies are being planned on June 30 in Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Believes Families Belong Together rally is slated for 11 a.m. June 30 in Market Square.
We know the right thing to do here. Lady Liberty has it etched in stone for all to see, despite the Trump Administration’s previous trivializing of it.
“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!”
Or more simply zipped up in good, old-fashioned red-cardigan Pittsburgh wisdom: Won’t you be my neighbor?