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Family separation: A twisted, tainted tradition

Abolish ICE light brigade by Joe Brusky  Photo: Joe Brusky via Flickr CC license / Joe Brusky
This piece was originially published in the News and Record of Greensboro, NC
Four times in U.S. history people of color have been subjected to forced separations from their families. In each case, our government has used twisted logic — and outright lies — to defend and justify its cruel policies. In some cases, the actions have benefited those of privilege.
I first became aware of these policies as a child in the 1940s, when a Japanese American friend related her experiences to me. When she was 4 years old, she, her brother and her mother were taken from their home in San Francisco, after her father, an American citizen, had left for work. U.S. soldiers transported them to Arizona, where they were imprisoned in a one-room shack with a dirt floor. They had no idea where the father might be, and he was unable to find them. Their internment ended four long years later, when they were returned to their home, and reunited with my friend’s father. He had come back home every day of those four years, hoping for their return
A year after she told me her story, my friend Ailyn died, at age 13. It was never clear to me what she died of, and I have always believed it was related to the extreme trauma and sadness of her experience.
Japanese internment camp
More than 120,000 Japanese Americans were put in internment camps in the 1940s. Our government used “national security” as the justification for its actions. Ironically, during that same time period, about 425,000 German POWs (Nazis) were brought into the United States to “re-educate” them to think in more democratic ways. They were employed in local farms and factories and paid the going wage. National security was never mentioned in the case of these white wartime enemies, and the benefits they received were all approved by Congress. The stark contrast between the treatment of these two groups was obvious to me at the time.
The forceful separation of families as a U.S. policy began during the enslavement of black Africans in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries to benefit white slave traders and slave owners. By selling children, they could enhance their monetary gains. The result of this practice was the domination of the U.S. textile industry on the world stage, as well as the building of American cities, including Washington D.C., on the backs of free black labor. The inhumanity of separating children and babies from parents, and parents from each other was never considered.
Throughout the 1800s and 1900s the U.S. forcibly removed Native American children from their homes and placed them in government boarding schools. They were stripped of their names, language, cultural beliefs and customs, and they were punished severely for any infractions. They also were trained to create crafts to be sold for profit for the schools. Ironically, conversion to Christianity was cited as a principal goal.Not until 1978 did the Indian Child Welfare Act give Native American parents the legal right to refuse the placement of their children in off-reservation schools. However, a 2013 class-action lawsuit brought by American Civil Liberties Union in Pennington County, S.D., confirmed that the child separation practice was still in force, with more than 1,000 children forcibly removed since 2010. A new law was enacted in 2016 to correct these abuses. It remains to be seen whether it will eliminate them.
Carlisle Indian boarding school
Now in 2018, the U.S. government is again imposing a policy of forced separation on families of color. This time the victims are refugees from Central America who are seeking asylum in the U.S. More than 600 unreturned children are still suffering, after many months of separation, and some, we now learn, may never be reunited with their parents. Private persons and corporations are profiting from building and running some of the compounds, and once again “national security” is touted as the justification for these inhumane abuses.Throughout our history and now across our nation, severe measures are being used to rid the U.S. of ethnic minorities. The Alamance County 287g Program has been flagged for using local law enforcement, combined with federal authorities such as ICE, in racial profiling. This strategy has resulted in family separations, detentions, and deportations of Latinos.American officials travel the world criticizing human rights abuses elsewhere. We must end our racist policies here at home. Call your senotors and your U.S. House representative, to take action. Legislators who favor inhumane separation policies must be voted out.

About the Author

Joyce Sandy is a retired educator and attorney who lives in Durham, NC. She is a Quaker and a member of Chapel Hill Friends Meeting.

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