I’ve had an obsession with World War II since I was a little girl. The first book that introduced this time in history to my mind was Number The Stars by Lois Lowry. I was absolutely mesmerized by the bravery of this little girl, my age, who duped the bad guys by relying on her naturally blonde hair. I had blonde hair then, too. I would have been safe, I thought. And I made myself believe I, too, would have been brave.
My fascination continued when I studied abroad in Innsbruck, Austria, in college, and one of the classes I took was Genocide. We took a field trip to Dachau, the very first concentration camp in Germany during World War II. I will not cheapen this experience by attempting to describe it to you. Just know it is something I have never been able to shake. And I hope I never can.
Later in college I had the incredible opportunity to hear Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, speak during a special night for the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College at the University of Mississippi. It was impossible to imagine this frail, delicate man surviving some of the worst horrors conceivable by man. But when he spoke, his strength was as undeniable as his message:
“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
As the United States continues to battle out the question of migrant family immigrants seeking asylum in this country, history is echoing in my ears. I’ve been thinking about that old man a lot. I’ve been thinking about that concentration camp, and the brave little girl with blonde hair. I’ve been thinking about refugees, and the separation of families, and the detainments at borders. While there are obvious, concrete differences between the past and the present, some similarities are undeniable. They are haunting mirrors reflecting the potential for history to repeat itself in ugly ways, if we stay silent.
Before I begin, here’s what you should know about me: I am a newly married, twenty-nine year old Executive Assistant living in a nice area of a fairly large city in one of the wealthiest first-world countries in the world, a life complete with healthcare, running water, car insurance, and a savings account. I studied English in college, and I have never once counted my political party affiliation, or lack thereof, as an extension of myself. I do not consider myself to be the educated authority on many topics, including government, current events, politics, and most especially, math. But I am a human being with a pulse, an obsession with history, a dependency on words, and an inability to keep quiet on things that take up space in my brain.
The events at our borders are breaking my heart. So yes, I have something to say about it.
There are migrant families from South America knocking on our door right now. Fathers, mothers, sons, daughters—families fleeing violence and seeking asylum in the United States. Words are important here. Let’s break it down.
Families: Swarms of gangs with criminal records are not sitting in detainment camps with border patrol—that would be a giant waste of their evil time. The migrants at the border are “primarily parents saving their children” from the atrocities they face at home. These are fathers and mothers who are literally uprooting their families in order to seek the highest chance of survival for themselves and their children, no matter how small that chance may be. This is not a casual relocation; this is a last-ditch effort at life.
Fleeing: This is not a vacation. Life in their country, their home, has become so detrimental to their very survival that they are leaving everything and everyone behind to seek what they believe to be a safer life in a country where they do not speak the language, where they know no familiar faces, where they have no memories, because it offers the greater chance of survival. And while that chance of survival isn’t guaranteed, it is still better than the reality they are living in their own country.
Violence: These families did not hear the weather was better in North America. The three countries in the Northern Triangle area of South America that they are fleeing from is home to three of the most violent countries in the world. The. World. There are constant threats of drug violence, gang violence, rape, kidnapping, etc. The homicide rate in El Salvador alone is eleven times that of the United States. This is a daily part of life walking out of your door in these countries. It is not a possibility; it’s a high probability.
And Seeking Asylum In the United States: They are not here seeking riches, fame, fortune, or even your much-coveted 9-5 desk job. They are here because they still see America as she once was—a beacon of hope for the hopeless, a shelter for the homeless, a protector of dreams, a shield against the persecuted, a place to lie one’s head and one’s heart. It’s America that doesn’t see herself that way anymore.
You may argue that this is solely an immigration issue. Or it’s a population issue or a political issue or a border issue or an economic issue, or just simply a space issue. And all of those things contribute, for sure. But if you stop to look at what ultimately should matter most—the people in danger, the lives at risk—this becomes an empathy issue, a compassion issue, and mostly, a human rights issue.
Today the voices of Americans who refused to remain silent while those seeking asylum were separated from their families were heard. And a step was made in the right direction. But this nightmare for these families is far from over. Over 2,000 children are being detained at our borders, separated from their families and forced to confront a terrifying reality of language barriers and legal systems they can’t begin to comprehend, because our administration took its time in deciding that families belong together. And for most of these people, family is all they have left.
I understand there are logistics, and there are numbers, and there are policies, and there are hoops to jump through and immigration laws to follow. I understand we are only one country, and we cannot save everyone. But we can do better. These lives are depending on it.
So if it’s due to a broken system, let’s fix it. If it’s due to faulty laws, let’s revise them. If it’s due to politics, let’s remove them from the conversation. If it’s due to fear of other cultures and other people, let’s replace it with love.
This cannot be our legacy. A closed door, an unanswered call for help, a mother separated from her daughter, a father separated from his son. Our actions make us who we are. Let’s look in the mirror, as a country, and decide who we want to be, what we want to stand for, how we want to leave our legacy for the next generation. And let’s continue to use our voices to make that happen.
As residents and citizens of the United States, we are the lucky ones, the safe ones. Now let’s be brave, too.
If you would like to contribute financially to organizations dedicated to reuniting these families, please consider donating to the American Civil Liberties Union or the RAICES Family Reunification and Bond Fund.