I'm U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, and I believe that in America, we must never intentionally inflict trauma on children. And that's why I'm writing to you today.
At a Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, I witnessed something that is now seared into my mind: A large warehouse facility with cells constructed of fence posts and chain link fencing--like dog kennels or large cages.
But the style of construction isn't the issue. What is the issue is that in that facility U.S. agents are tasked with taking the children out of their parents' arms and putting them into cells with other children--with neither the children nor the parents knowing if they will ever see each other again.
Imagine a family that is persecuted abroad for its religion or political engagement, or a family targeted by a vicious drug gang. The family escapes to the United States, surviving harrowing experiences en route. Finally, they arrive to the shores of the United States, knowing that the U.S. has time and again treated families fleeing persecution with respect because so many Americans have a parent, grandparent, or ancestor that arrived to the U.S. fleeing persecution.
But instead, the Border Patrol--under a new plan concocted by Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump, and John Kelly--arrest the asylum seekers as criminals and proceed to take the screaming children from the arms of their protesting parents.
Let me state the obvious: This is wrong. Terribly wrong. Ripping the children away from their parents induces enormous anxiety for the parents. Where are their children going? Will they ever see them again? Who will care for them?
But even worse, this inflicts enormous trauma on the children. In a strange new land with a new language, the only security the children have is to be with their parents. Experts tell us (not that we need experts to tell us) that this is causing huge emotional trauma.
Harming children for any reason, including for the purpose of discouraging persecuted families from seeking asylum, is evil.
If you believe that separating children from their families is wrong--and that it's got to stop--then will you become a monthly donor to MoveOn today to help fuel their campaign against this moral outrage, and to build the political power to stop this and other horrific policies targeting immigrant families?
Like you, I thought that this couldn't possibly happen in today's America. But there I was in Texas, looking at a cell full of young boys. The youngest was knee-high to a grasshopper--maybe 4 or 5 years old. Some of those boys may have arrived as unaccompanied minors. But some had been taken away from their parents the previous day or perhaps only hours earlier. And the same happens with the daughters.
The Department of Homeland Security reports that in just a 12-day period in May they took 658 children away from their families.1
Where do they go? The Border Patrol turns them over to the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement. Many end up in a massive detention center. I visited one located in a former Walmart, in another town in Texas. I wasn't allowed inside to check on the children--Team Trump requires that members of Congress submit a request two weeks in advance and doesn't guarantee that a visit will be approved even then. This is clearly designed to make it very difficult for Congress to exercise any oversight.
Nor would the supervisor at the detention center answer any questions, when he came out to talk to me. So I don't know how many children were inside, although I heard from others that the number was many hundreds, and possibly a thousand. I don't know how long they've been or will stay there, or where they'll go next. I don't know whether they have enough counselors, or teachers, or health professionals. I don't know if parents can regularly talk to their children, but I'm told by others that it is extremely difficult for parents to find out where their children are, let alone talk to them regularly.
But let's be clear. No matter how good the supplies and staff are--and I have heard that the nonprofit that runs the detention center has a solid reputation--nothing makes it OK to inflict great harm on children by unnecessarily and forcibly removing them from their parents, as they await an asylum hearing.
So we need you to fight back.