The Outrage & Ongoing Discussion of Family Separation


*Disclaimer — this is an off-topic and lengthy post that strays from language acquisition to another topic of interest as my multilingual, multicultural family has strong feelings about immigration and immigrant rights. 

I had never been to a rally.

I had donated to advocacy groups I thought were doing good work. Cheered for them online with retweets and likes. But for the most part, I was keeping things “civil.” I am a Democrat with lots of Republican friends and family members.

The zero-tolerance policy changed things. I read the coverage, and became increasingly upset. The same thing seemed to be happening across the country. Furious parents like myself began breaking their vows to never post political topics on Facebook, then the media sensed the fury and fed off it.

I went to my first rally in Raleigh on June 20, the day the executive order was signed to halt family separations, and a picture of myself with my 4-year-old son was featured in the News & Observer. We were taking a selfie that showed our signs. My son designed his sign himself, and told me what to write: “Kids Need Their Mommies and Daddies.”


We would also attend the June 30 rally that occurred in Raleigh along with hundreds of other demonstrations around the country, this time toting my almost two-year-old as well.

It was great to see so many different people from all age groups, races and religions show up for these immigrant families, especially when my own social media posts and comments had been met with derision from some of the current President’s fiercest supporters back in central Illinois, where I grew up.

Why the Sudden Outrage?

A line had been crossed, and I could no longer be silent. Every time I looked at my babies I thought of those frightened children and parents who came here for amnesty and received the opposite. If the current administration is testing the waters to see how we’ll react, I thought, I must show up and make some noise.

Cruelty in our immigration system is not new. But zero tolerance poured gasoline on the flame. It exacerbated the flaws within the system to purposefully amplify chaos without regard for the impact of human suffering. And it did so carelessly and heartlessly, with no foresight into formulating a solution for reunification.

As so many of my friends on the right like to point out, previous Democratic presidents have also separated families through detention and deportations. This is true and when I say, “Yeah, that did happen and it was B.S.” it gets me much further along in the discussion than going into blanket defense mode.

However, those on the right should also acknowledge that zero tolerance was new under President Trump, and the policy was exceptionally cruel. Separation was not merely a byproduct of the process, it was the whole point.

John Kelly suggested family separations as a deterrent method for illegal immigration in March 2017, but the idea was withdrawn after bipartisan backlash. When there was a slight uptick in border crossings this year, it seems they were willing to send the message no matter the cost. But the plan made separations occur with rapid-fire speed in a short amount of time. Faster, it seems, than what they could handle.

The result is heartbreaking chaos with children being sent to facilities across the country, parents being deported without their children, and immigration lawyers scrambling to connect them.

The Underlying Fuel: Xenophobia

It’s been frustrating for people like myself to watch as those who support zero tolerance cut off their empathy so abruptly. Fervent nationalism continues to rise around the world, even though migration has continued to trend downward in the U.S. and Europe.

In the U.S., illegal border entries dropped by 90 percent since the year 2000, according to data from the DHS.


The safety-related claims we hear about illegal immigrants are also bogus, as studies have shown crime is not central to the immigrant community. CATO Institute findings showed that immigrants (legal and illegal) were less likely to commit a crime than native born citizens, while an analysis by Light and Miller showed there was no correlation between crime rates and the number of undocumented immigrants.


Xenophobia would explain the ability to dehumanize and discount the human suffering of migrants as we’ve seen throughout history. It would explain responding to the cries of children with a flippant, “Well, they shouldn’t have come here illegally. We don’t want ‘em.” It often comes from those who have no idea of the complexities of getting a green card, or who don’t care that seeking asylum IS legal because they don’t know (or care to know) about the desperate situations these people are fleeing. Or even America’s own role in creating the instability of those countries of El Salvador, Honduras or Guatemala.

Xenophobia ebbs and flows in the U.S. but is ever present. It’s also hard to overcome, which makes immigration such an impossible topic to discuss.

Source: U.S. Library of Congress — Anti-immigrant propaganda against Irish and Chinese immigrants from the turn of the 20th century.

But it’s worth noting that not every Republican voter has these feelings. Not everyone who voted for the current administration agrees with zero tolerance, some are even appalled by it. And while it’s tempting to call these people out to hold them accountable for what’s happening, it’s just playing into the hands of those who orchestrated this policy.

How Do We Talk About This?

One of my moderate Republican friends against zero tolerance dared post about it on Facebook after Laura Bush notably came forward to condemn the policy. The result? She was mowed down by her connections on the left AND the right, who inevitably went to war with each other in the comment section. One of her friends even said – “This is on you.” You’re responsible for these kids being detained away from their parents by voting for Trump, how dare you express empathy. This broke up a friendship of over 20 years.

While I understand the urge to say this and have had these thoughts myself, pointing fingers at moderates on the right when they are AGREEING with you is counterproductive. You’re pushing them farther into the corner you’re trying to resist.

If you see sprouts of compassion starting to grow, you don’t just rip them out from the soil.

Keep pressing for families to be reunited. Share what’s going on with facts and possible solutions if empathy gets you nowhere –

  • every detained child in a tent city costs $775 a night (HHS),
  • every adult costs $134 a night (DHS),
  • every family bed costs $319 a night (DHS),
  • electronic surveillance costs $5-$15 per person, per night (DHS),
  • family case management for those who pass the credible fear interview—viewed as the most humane and cost effective method with high compliance rates (99 percent according to the Inspector General)—costs $36 per day, per family.  The FCMP pilot program was launched in early 2016 was shut down by ICE in June 2017.

Immigration is also crucial to our economy, as the elderly will soon start to outnumber children (the U.S. Census projects the year to be 2035) and birthrates are not high enough to compensate for the overlap that will continue to grow. There’s a good place to start a discussion.

An Aging Nation: Projected Number of Children and Older Adults[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

I know it’s frustrating for immigrant rights supporters when others are apathetic. But if someone does show he or she cares, don’t attack. We need more people to call out the cruelty of what’s happening right now, no matter who they voted for or how vocal they have been in the past. Moderates don’t often speak out publicly, but they do vote.

There’s power in numbers, especially when the voices are coming from both sides. Even more so at the ballot box. Let’s do what we can to see that the families are reunited before then. Even when you are attacked, maintain a higher level of discourse and keep supporting organizations providing legal representation to immigrant families and unaccompanied children.

Donate to RAICES

Donate to Immigration Counseling Services

Donate to the ACLU

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