My little girls are my world. I bet any parent would say the same thing. What would you do for your kids? Work an extra job to make sure they had a roof over their head and full bellies at night? Buy them something you can’t quite afford because you know they really, really want it? Find it hard to discipline them sometimes because you feel guilty for being gone at work all day?
How about flee your home, with nothing but the clothes on your back, and undertake a journey you know is so dangerous that one or both of you may not even survive it if you thought making that journey would give your child a chance of simply staying alive?
Yes, me too.
Which is why as a human rights lawyer, a mother, and an American I am absolutely stunned that the government is considering separating mothers from their children in an effort to deter them from seeking protection in our country. The Secretary of Homeland Security has publicly admitted he is considering a policy of taking children away from their mothers to try to deter them from asking for protection. Who would want to tear a child from their mother’s arms? What kind of mother wouldn’t do what she needed to do in order to save their child’s life?
The proposed policy would also make children “unaccompanied” which means that not only would these children be separated from their mothers, they would be placed in U.S. custody until a sponsor could be found to care for them while their case is decided by our immigration court system. To cause a child to be detained alone unnecessarily for an unknown period of time is incredibly harsh and is not who we are as a nation.
Immigration is a controversial topic. Many smart, well-intentioned folks disagree about what our nation’s immigration policy should be. There are rational arguments on both ends of the political spectrum about tighter or looser immigration laws. However, I can’t think of any person I know, regardless of where they stand, who thinks it is appropriate — as a matter of policy — to take a child from her mother.
When I provide legal counsel to immigrants, especially those from Central America who left fleeing violence and fearing for their safety, they tell me, “I don’t worry about myself, I worry for my children. Let what happens to me happen, I’ve lived my life. But I do this for my children.”
I am incredibly lucky that I’ve never had to worry about making the decision to leave my life — my job, my friends, my family or my community to try and keep my family alive. But, imagining being in that position, I would do the same thing. I know I am not alone. The risk of being placed in a detention center in the United States, or even being separated from my children upon arrival would not stop me from trying to save their lives. Doing what I needed to do, putting my children’s interest ahead of my own makes me a good mother. These are good mothers. We should respect their bravery and their fierce love for their children, not punish them or threaten to prosecute them.
I have no doubt that implementing a blanket policy of family separation as a means of deterring refugees will not only be unsuccessful, it will only add to the pain and trauma these families have experienced.
Organizations like the one for which I work, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), will work hard to ensure we maintain a sense of humanity in our country’s immigration policy, and to continue to find pro bono attorneys for children who come to the United States alone. Join me in expressing our collective outrage as parents, Americans and simply human beings by contacting your Representative and Senators to let them know we won’t stand for such punitive policies against mothers and children.
It is clear this administration severely underestimates the power of a mother’s love and the lengths to which she would go to protect her child.
Jennifer Podkul is the Director of Policy for Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), which provides pro bono attorneys to unaccompanied children and advocates for their protection.