Zero tolerance for inhumanity

By Pearl Benjamin | Jul 05, 2018

The pounding June sun unleashed an angry heat. The air smelled of damp clothing and sage smoke, and my ears rang from the outraged choruses of demands.

On Saturday, I was part of a 50,000-person army fighting a battle against heat and injustice at the Families Belong Together rally in Washington, D.C. The energy of the pressing crowd was heavy with condemnation and fury. There seemed to be a feeling of desperation hanging in the humidity, the oppressive heat mirroring the inhumanity we were fighting.

President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy has led to a cruel crackdown on immigration. All adults who cross the border without authorization, even those seeking asylum and even those who cross at legal ports of entry, are now treated as criminals and jailed. At the Southwest border, 2,047 immigrant children have been separated from their parents and shipped off to detention centers or parts unknown. Many of these families are the victims of the very gang violence Trump accuses them of importing. Others are simply desperately poor, seeking work to feed their children.

In an attempt to shift the blame for this crisis away from his own policy, President Trump signed an executive order he claimed would “keep families together” and “solve the problem." But no problem is solved by this executive order. It provides no plan for reuniting the already separated children with their parents and no plan for halting the criminalization of non-criminal immigrants. It even sets the stage for indefinite family internment. Although crossing the border without authorization is a misdemeanor (like jaywalking), our president wants Americans to believe that people who come from other places and have darker skin are to be feared and treated with the same fierce punishment as violent criminals.

The problem, of course, is a “zero tolerance” policy that handcuffs America’s open arms for asylum seekers. Separating innocent children from their innocent parents is a violation of human rights. Worse, our government agencies place these children who have already gone through traumatic experiences in literal cages. Once they are sent away to other parts of the country, many have no way of contacting their parents. Their so-called caretakers are not allowed to hug them when they cry. Kids have reported being drugged in their detention facilities. The Huffington Post reported that one child was forced to take up to seven pills at a time. Because this is all done without parental consent, it’s more than immoral. It’s against the law.

To some people, the severity of this situation isn’t sinking in. “They’re not our children,” some have said. Regardless of the fact that any child seeking refuge from a life-threatening situation should always be considered our responsibility, many of the kids affected by our government’s immigration crackdown inside the border are, in fact, American citizens. An article in Sunday’s Washington Post describes the transformation of one working-class immigrant community in Ohio, where ICE’s workplace raids have created villages of American orphans. All over the country, in towns far from the border, undocumented parents of legal American citizens are being arrested at their jobs, their doctor’s offices, their local courthouses. They are being lured into the hands of ICE with promises of free food, and after that their chances of seeing their children again are slim.

The zero tolerance immigration policies aren’t just ruining the lives of asylum-seeking immigrant children — they are also destroying the families of American children and American communities. The Trump administration is screwing over its own people, and all of us taxpayers are funding it.

So, what can you do about it? One way is to support the organizations providing legal support and translators to imprisoned parents. Groups like the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) pay the bonds of parents who have cleared their initial asylum hearings so that they can be released from jail to claim their children. You can also support groups like the ACLU, who take the administration to court when they try to take away parents’ rights to be released on bond, as happened just this week. It is also important to contact D.C. representatives and tell them to support the Keep Families Together act, which ends family separation and detainment for good.

The American people need to speak out for their country now. This is one of those situations when you cannot ignore the injustice at hand just because it doesn’t directly affect you. If you are a parent, put yourself in the shoes of a mother who may never see her son or daughter again. If you are a minor like me, imagine being placed in bleak detainment or in the custody of someone you’ve never met before. These children who are being sent to “baby jails” will never live the life of liberty and justice that our country promises — they will live one of fear and distrust. As Americans, it is our job to fight against these cruel policies because they do not represent American values. We should have zero tolerance for this inhumanity.


Pearl Benjamin is a student at Camden Hills Regional High School.


Comments (9)
Posted by: Ronald Horvath | Jul 08, 2018 18:58

Edwin;  All children are our children.  Those parents are fleeing danger and deprivation in countries with problems the US has chosen to ignore despite the fact that much of it is the result of American intervention during the last century, destroying democracies and installing authoritarian governments to benefit our corporations.  Now they've come to us to find safety and sustenance for their children; traveling by any means, over any terrain, risking any danger, covering their children with their hopes and dreams for a better life, as the poor and embattled of the world have done since this country’s inception.  If you had any sense of history you would know that, but you don't.  And since talking reason to someone like you is useless I'll talk religion instead.


“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

Posted by: Edwin E Ecker | Jul 08, 2018 16:31

Richard , these children are not our children ,they have parents and those parents choose to ignore the safety of their children do get their name on the front page  !

So much for doing what is right and taking responsibility for your actions !

Posted by: Ronald Horvath | Jul 07, 2018 16:42

"A 14-month-old baby boy separated from his parents by U.S. officials at the Mexican border was finally returned to his mother dirty and covered with lice 85 days later, according to one of several chilling accounts in documents filed in a lawsuit motion. The suit, filed last week by 17 states and the District of Columbia against President Donald Trump and federal agencies, calls for migrant children and parents to be reunited.


The boy’s mother, Olivia Caceras, is quoted as saying that it didn’t appear that the baby had been bathed during his nearly three-month stay in federal custody as part of Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy on separating undocumented immigrants from their children.


The baby “continued to cry when we got home and would hold on to my leg and would not let me go,” said the mom, whose account was included in some 900 pages of testimony from various family members and children filed Monday, PBS Newshour reported. “When I took off his clothes, he was full of dirt and lice. It seemed like they had not bathed him the 85 days he was away from us.”


Caceras told PBS reporter Lisa Des Jardins that her son “is not the same since we were reunited. He does not separate from me. He cries when he does not see me ... he cries for fear of being alone.”

Federal officials aren’t responding to the accounts of treatment in the lawsuit because of the ongoing litigation, they told PBS.

Posted by: Lynette Walther | Jul 06, 2018 14:18

Two "thank-you's" to Pearl Benjamin. First thank you for your participation in the protest. Over the past year and a half, there has been unprecedented participation in protests against the policies of this administration. We are encouraged by this overwhelming response by citizens. Second thank you for your well-written, articulate opinion piece on the purpose of that most-recent protest against the cruel policy of separating immigrant children from their parents. Yes, we cannot remain silent when such injustice becomes a government policy.

"If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so." Thomas Jefferson

Posted by: Ronald Horvath | Jul 06, 2018 10:28

"WASHINGTON — The Department of Health and Human Services placed more than a dozen immigrant children in the custody of human traffickers after it failed to conduct background checks of caregivers, according to a Senate report released on Thursday.

Examining how the federal agency processes minors who arrive at the border without a guardian, lawmakers said they found that it had not followed basic practices of child welfare agencies, like making home visits.

The Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations opened its inquiry after law enforcement officials uncovered a human trafficking ring in Marion, Ohio, last year. At least six children were lured to the United States from Guatemala with the promise of a better life, then were made to work on egg farms. The children, as young as 14, had been in federal custody before being entrusted to the traffickers.

“It is intolerable that human trafficking — modern-day slavery — could occur in our own backyard,” said Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio and the chairman of the subcommittee. “But what makes the Marion cases even more alarming is that a U.S. government agency was responsible for delivering some of the victims into the hands of their abusers.”

In addition to the Marion cases, the investigation found evidence that 13 other children had been trafficked after officials handed them over to adults who were supposed to care for them during their immigration proceedings. An additional 15 cases exhibited some signs of trafficking.

The report also said that it was unclear how many of the approximately 90,000 children the agency had placed in the past two years fell prey to traffickers, including sex traffickers, because it does not keep track of such cases.”

Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Jul 05, 2018 20:49

Such clear writing and thoughtful analysis and Ms. Benjamin is only a sophomore. The arc of history bends toward justice, as MLK said. Pearl and her generation are the future of compassion and justice.

Posted by: Ronald Horvath | Jul 05, 2018 18:51

"Did your ancestors arrive in the US before WWI? Then they were very likely undocumented too. When Annie Moore, the first immigrant to be processed through Ellis Island, arrived there from Ireland on January 1, 1892, she would not have been asked for a visa or a passport. Instead, ship's captains handed over the manifests and vouched for the names and origins of their passengers.

The Immigration Act of 1917 put in place further restrictions, barring those who were physically or mentally ill and imposing a literacy test - reading 30 - 40 words in your native language - on all those above the age of 16, in addition to barring immigration from much of Asia and the Pacific Islands.

The concept of being documented didn't arrive until the mid-1920s. Per National Geographic:  

"the idea of a worldwide passport standard emerged in the aftermath of the First World War, championed by the League of Nations, a body tasked with the heavy burden of maintaining peace. A year later, perhaps recognizing a political opportunity, the U.S. passed the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and later, the Immigration Act of 1924 limiting the inflow of immigrants. The emergency? Too many newcomers from countries deemed a threat to “the ideal of American hegemony.” How to identify an immigrant’s country of origin? By a newly minted passport, of course."

Moore, a hero to so many, is also a classic late-1800s example of chain migration. When she arrived from Co. Cork with her two younger brothers in tow, it was to reunite with her parents, siblings, and other family members who had already made the journey to the US.

As genealogist Megan Smolenyak, who discovered Annie Moore's real, tragic fate after decades of mistaken identity, points out, they had no trouble joining their parents.

The first widely restrictive legislation came with the National Origins Act of 1924, which established visa requirements and regional quotas, with especially restrictive measures for those from Asian and Eastern European countries. However, many hopeful immigrants continued to enter the US illegally during this time, something the US eventually acknowledged and allowed for.”

Posted by: Edwin E Ecker | Jul 05, 2018 16:57

Just maybe if these so called immigrants would come through the same door others have for hundreds of years they might be treated differently !

They are left by their parents to fend for themselves and die in the deserts of Mexico.

I call this child abuse at it's highest level.

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Jul 05, 2018 13:42

“They’re not our children,” some have said.  

They are our children; or they could be, or may be next. We are blessed to have updates as to what is going on and how our local young people are making a difference. Thanks, Ms. Benjamin.

Ain't much difference, me from you and

you from me.

Like it or not we're both cut

from the same tree.

Ain't much difference; me from you or you from me.
Like it or not we're both cut from the same tree.

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