I have a dose of the The Fear tonight like none I've ever had since perhaps the day after the 2016 election. I cannot get the knowledge that children are being ripped from their families and jailed for the crime of seeking asylum out of my head. Every single waking breathing moment I have is totally suffused with it.
It was bad enough earlier today, but then I decided to listen to that ProPublica audio and I completely lost it. My two daughters are almost six years old, and the six year old Salvadoran girl who kept repeating her aunt's phone number has a voice very much like one of my daughters. I could imagine her in that moment, confident that she could get out if she could just get the big people to understand her.
As others have pointed out, this kind of thing is not new in American life. Today's carnival of lies by DHS Secretary Nielsen reminded me of a propaganda film the government put out in 1943 to tell everyone that Japanese internment was necessary to protect the nation from saboteurs in their ranks. It also said not to worry, the internees were being treated well, as their smiling faces were supposed to attest.
Nielsen proclaimed that the kids were being treated kindly, and that this whole thing was necessary to uphold the law and to stop MS-13 and terrorists, instead of "saboteurs."
I am also reminded of many narratives by former slaves who discussed the practice of children being sold away from their mothers. Solomon Northrup's description of a boy being taken from his mother at the slave market in New Orleans brings tears to my eyes:
"The same man also purchased Randall. The little fellow was made to jump, and run across the floor, and perform many other feats, exhibiting his activity and condition. All the time the trade was going on, Eliza was crying aloud, and wringing her hands. She besought the man not to buy him, unless he also bought her self and Emily. She promised, in that case, to be the most faithful slave that ever lived. The man answered that he could not afford it, and then Eliza burst into a paroxysm of grief, weeping plaintively. Freeman turned round to her, savagely, with his whip in his uplifted hand, ordering her to stop her noise, or he would flog her. He would not have such work - such snivelling; and unless she ceased that minute, he would take her to the yard and give her a hundred lashes. Yes, he would take the nonsense out of her pretty quick - if he didn’t, might he be d—d. Eliza shrunk before him, and tried to wipe away her tears, but it was all in vain. She wanted to be with her children, she said, the little time she had to live. All the frowns and threats of Freeman, could not wholly silence the afflicted mother. She kept on begging and beseeching them, most piteously not to separate the three. Over and over again she told them how she loved her boy. A great many times she repeated her former promises - how very faithful and obedient she would be; how hard she would labor day and night, to the last moment of her life, if he would only buy them all together. But it was of no avail; the man could not afford it. The bargain was agreed upon, and Randall must go alone. Then Eliza ran to him; embraced him passionately; kissed him again and again; told him to remember her - all the while her tears falling in the boy’s face like rain.This scene, of a mother crying as her child is taken away from her, is being replayed many times a day on the border as we live and breathe.
Freeman damned her, calling her a blubbering, bawling wench, and ordered her to go to her place, and behave herself; and be somebody. He swore he wouldn’t stand such stuff but a little longer. He would soon give her something to cry about, if she was not mighty careful, and that she might depend upon.
The planter from Baton Rouge, with his new purchases, was ready to depart.
“Don’t cry, mama. I will be a good boy. Don’t cry,” said Randall, looking back, as they passed out of the door.
What has become of the lad, God knows. It was a mournful scene indeed. I would have cried myself if I had dared."
In many respects, we are seeing America return to its default setting. This nation has its origins in settler colonialism, which gave birth to a form of Herrenvolk nationalism. Until 1965, citizenship in this country was still by law dependent on race. The Voting Rights Act and Immigration Act helped change that, but that was not so long ago. Deep down, most white people (including white liberals) do not care enough about the fate of brown-skinned immigrant children to do something on their behalf. I have pledged to fight, but I am not confident that there will be victory.