Ways of seeing: Border policy is cruel

When I was five years old, I spent the night in the hospital after getting my tonsils removed. I knew what was happening and why, but when I woke up in the morning, I wanted my parents. It wasn’t my sore throat as much as a cold heaviness in my chest — I felt so alone. I lay quietly, the tears sliding down my cheeks. Eventually a nurse came by and asked if I was alright. I said I wanted my parents. She assured me they would be there later, which I already knew, but I wanted them sooner. It seemed a long while before they came to take me home.
When my grandmother arrived in this country from Sweden, she was seven years old. After travelling by ship to New York, seasick the whole way, she, along with her parents and two siblings boarded a train to Illinois where relatives awaited them. Shortly before reaching Chicago, her mother disappeared, her body later found alongside the railroad tracks. Apparently unable to cope, her father placed the children with three different families.
I remember her sharing this experience with me when she was around 80 years old. The first family she lived with had essentially used her as a servant girl, providing little nurturing but many chores. Even after so many years, it was obvious the sense of hurt and loss that remained. There she had been in a new land with a new language, new expectations, and no familiar or loved person immediately present.
I think of these experiences when I hear of children separated from their families after an arduous, often scary journey that lands them in a new place, a new culture, where really the only thing they might have to hold on to would have been their parent. I think of myself as a young mother. I would have wanted to tear someone apart if they had taken one of my children from me. Unable to carry out such an attack and worried for our long-term safety, I would surely have retreated into the depths of sorrow and depression.
It is no cliché to say we are a nation of immigrants. Even here in Vermont, where there is a significant stereotype of a “Vermonter,” many diverse people have come over time to build the state’s industry and to make this state their home. While their labor may have been welcomed, their ethnicity more often was not. Each group or individual has had to see some generations pass before they could begin to share a bit of that “Vermonter” stereotype.
We value the dairy farms in our midst for their milk and their agricultural landscape, so we’re apt to look positively on the immigrant laborers. We can be grateful that they make the continuance of dairying possible, without worrying if they have entered our country legally. They may not be assimilated into our society, but most of us welcome their presence, wishing them a status that would allow them to come out of the shadows and more fully take part. We see how their presence helps our farms and our state. This economic help from immigrants happens in many sectors and communities across our nation. Rather than being a blight on our economy, they represent a boon.
If these immigrant workers could come easily and legally into our state, they could bring their families and be an active part of our communities. Our state wants more younger people — here is the perfect demographic, and we would not even have to pay them $10,000 to relocate.
Almost all of us are the children of immigrants. History shows that few first-generation migrants have an easy time settling in, finding a place in whatever community has been established before them. Certainly many have dealt with trauma, exclusion, and hardships.
The only examples I can think of, however, where our government allowed systematic wrenching children from their parents was during the time of slavery and when Native American children were forced into boarding schools. Surely we have learned something since then. Surely we are a better society, one that recognizes the harm this does, stands up and says, “NO!” Surely, we can make certain that those who propagate such brutality are held responsible and never allowed such power again.
Right now there are detained children who may not even be crying anymore. They may silently be trapped, silent, in a cold heaviness with no understanding of what has happened or if they will ever see a parent again.
This never needed to happen. Cruelty masked as expediency is nonetheless cruel. The threats to our country are not coming from immigrants seeking refuge. The threats are coming from decision-makers who have lost their humanity.
Laurie Cox is a retired school counselor and long-time Ripton selectboard member. Besides occasional writing, she sings with Maiden Vermont, pursues art, takes long hikes with her dog(s) and seasonally gardens. She also is about to become more actively involved in things political, environmental, and just.

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