It is simply incongruous – and chilling – to see children separated from their families as a policy of the current administration. The comparable images that come to mind are the heart-rending stories that we as Jews hear about all the time. The fact that families were torn apart once they arrived at the concentration camps should cause all of us to be alarmed at the sight of family separation at our borders.
We recall the stories of some family members being ordered to march to the left and others ordered to march to the right after getting off the trains that arrived at the concentration camps. They never saw each other again.
Fortunately, the holding camps and buildings today are not set up as the ghastly death-producing places that the Nazis set up. But they are bad enough. It is serious enough to have families held in these holding camps while their refugee or asylum status is being determined. But the trauma that is being caused by separating 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7-year-olds from their parents is incalculable.
The parents do not know where their children are from minute to minute; they do not know what kinds of conditions they are held under; they do not know when they will be reunited; they do not see what kind of trauma the children are experiencing.
Imagine that you are traveling with your children or grandchildren in another country and you are separated from them, not knowing how they are being treated or for how long. It is hard to imagine that the U.S. government would not use its resources to correct that situation as quickly as possible. Yet this same government is doing precisely what it would oppose for another country; it is doing so as a matter of governmental policy.
The Atlanta JCRC (Jewish Community Relations Council) has this week signed onto a letter to the administration sent by many national and local Jewish organizations, including AJC, ADL, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, the Orthodox Union, Hadassah, NCJW, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, HIAS, American Jewish World Service, Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA, JCRC’s umbrella organization), and many others.
The letter pleads with the administration to immediately rescind the “zero tolerance” policy and uphold the values of family unity and justice on which our nation was built. From the letter, I quote: “As Jews, we understand the plight of being an immigrant fleeing violence and oppression. We believe that the United States is a nation of immigrants and how we treat the stranger reflects on the moral values and ideals of this nation.”
These American values are not what America has at times upheld itself. The separation of black slave families was a practice the years in many states, including Georgia. Fortunately, we are many decades from such a practice. But we have many people who are willing to let the government separate families today.
We must loudly and persistently call for the end of such a practice. There are many other things that we can do to create a balanced immigration policy, but the current Congress will not do anything productive. We must insist that Congress and the Administration do their jobs to create an effective and humane immigration policy that adequately reflects the value of our nation.