What President Trump Could Learn from the Legacy of Israel and Britain about the Treatment of Immigrant Children

Penny S. Tee Article

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tosssed to me…”

The Statue of Liberty


Politics are not my thing. But kids are, and these children need to be defended. The shame imposed on our country by Zero Tolerance and the new policy procedures in my opinion, are horrific.

I don’t care what side of the aisle you support…IT IS WRONG! You may not believe that “illegal” anything including aliens should come to our country. But surely you understand their intention to better the lives of their families, with the United States as their brass ring? A country that always celebrated freedom…or now do we flaunt our privileges as a policy in the face of the oppressed? Sorry, but I’m really mad!

Nearly three thousand innocent kids have been taken away from their parents. The Trump administration missed the deadline to reunite the children under age five and the way things are going, it’s unlikely that the July 26 deadline to reunite the older kids will be met. Is this really our United States or am I having a nightmare?

Why are these parents and children not brought back together yet?  I understand those not reuniting due to background checks exposing criminal records…the children’s lives might even be improved, but for the majority what’s the problem? Are you kidding me? The record keeping was so substandard that they don’t know who belongs with whom so that they need to do DNA testing? Unbelievable! The government claims some of the DNA verification is to prevent human trafficking. Great, but admit it, the real reason is you really screwed up!

They don’t know which baby, kid or adult belong together? Adding insult to injury, parents aren’t receiving any news of how their children are doing. Confused, crying children appear nightly on the news. Hell, I cry just watching this tragedy unfolding. This is immoral and unconscionable.

The Trump administration describes what they are doing with these kids as “Acts of generosity.” I strongly oppose their flippant analysis of these families’ circumstances.

As written in the Vanity Fair article, The Trump Administration is Taking Migrant Children as Political Hostages, “The treatment of these children is akin to child abuse. There’s ample evidence that taking children from their parents at such young ages (many of them are younger than four) causes lasting developmental and emotional damage. Dr. Lisa Fortuna, medical director for child and adolescent psychiatry at Boston Medical Center, told Business Insider, “What we find from a neurobiological sense is that the circuitry in the brain that is a fear response can be actually harmed. Putting children in a situation as traumatic as taking them away from their parents can make them more susceptible to behavioral problems like depression, anxiety, and P.T.S.D.”

When President Trump was bemoaning the practice of releasing the charged illegal immigrants on bond (as has been previous administration practices) so that the children could remain with their parents rather than the parents be detained in criminal detention, he said at a Tennessee rally last month, “You catch, you take their name, and you release. Great. Wonderful”… “Then they are supposed to show up to a court. There’s only one problem: They never show up. So we’re working on it.”

The leader of the free world comparing people to fish? OMG! And what he said isn’t even true. According to the Washington Post, a study from Syracuse University’s TRAC found that more than 80 percent of those granted bond for the first 10 months of 2016 returned for their hearings.1

A family being released on bond allows parents and children to stay together. If no bond is granted, the child is separated from a parent because the parent goes into criminal detention. The Trump administration states that in Flores v Reno, children can’t be detained in such facilities, and therefore necessitates that children and parents be separated.

According to the legal nonprofit Human Rights First, the Agreement “imposed several obligations on the immigration authorities, which fall into three broad categories”:

Flores v. Reno, established three mandates for the government’s handling of unaccompanied minors.

  1. The government is required to release children from immigration detention without unnecessary delay to, in order of preference, parents, other adult relatives, or licensed programs willing to accept custody.
  2. If a suitable placement is not immediately available, the government is obligated to place children in the “least restrictive” setting appropriate to their age and any special needs.
  3. The government must implement standards relating to the care and treatment of children in immigration detention.2

I missed the Trump’s administration’s interpretation of the above to mean take kids away from their family. Did you too?

Wendy Young is the president of Kids in Need of Defense, a nonprofit organization that provides immigrant children with pro bono legal support and has worked in the field for over thirty years, has criticized Trump’s immigration policies.

Ms. Young said, “The reality is, even though theoretically they have the authority to do that, through the immigration laws, to prosecute the parent, in the past that was truly the exception to the rule,” Young said. “The administration stating that they’re required to do this law flies in the face of a long-standing history of treating families like families and recognizing that the children, whether attached to a family or arriving unaccompanied, have particular vulnerabilities that need to be addressed.”

Reading the headlines, I’m outraged and grieving. As a mom I can’t believe that in 2018 with what we know about psychology and the impact that forcibly separating children from their parents can have, that as a nation we did just that. I’m ashamed of our cruel policies that have been enacted…in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

These are characteristics of our country we’ve always been proud of yet they seem a bit singed in today’s world when people longing for freedom head for the United States and we viciously turn them away. Is that brave, when the powerful turn their backs on the wretched? The current policies turn our back on the legacy of what our country has always represented.

I’ve been working on my edits for my book that will be out this fall, called…well stay tuned, that’s another story. Let’s just say we haven’t come to agreement on what to call my life’s work. You’ll be the first to know.

Anyway if you recall, my book is about our family vacation to Israel in 2014, when we found ourselves in the middle of war. We toured incredible sites, in fact the only time our tour changed was when we were supposed to go to Israel’s Air Force Museum.

In between exploring incredible historic and religious sites, we had been cowering in bomb shelters escaping Palestinian missiles that were launched against Israel. Unfortunately we never did get to see the museum because our tour guide announced, “Sorry, we talked it over, and if we ended up having to hide from rockets when we were there, well, there’s no buildings, only airplanes. Hiding under the wing of a plane wouldn’t be sufficient protection, so we’re not going there.” Yikes!

On our adventure we stayed at an actual kibbutz, Kibbutz Lavi. A kibbutz is a communal living setting where work and resources are shared. Some are agricultural, others are factories, and Israel even has high-tech kibbutzim. But what they have in common is a simple, communal way of life.

What’s happening with these kids reminded me of Kibbutz Lavi because the kibbutz was founded in 1949. Some of the founding members were children sent from the United Kingdom by the Kindertransports of the 1930s. The Kindertransports were Jewish parents’ desperate attempts during Hitler’s Germany to save their children’s lives. Shipments of 10,000, mostly Jewish children, were sent from their parents’ homes as refugees to live in Great Britain as foster children.3

Great Britain at this time relaxed immigration laws, they didn’t make them more severe.4 As we know today, most children never saw their parents again; who were later killed by the Nazis.”

Additionally, unlike at many kibbutzim, where the children stay in communal dorm settings, Kibbutz Lavi was the first to allow their children to stay with their parents, a fact the kibbutz advertises with pride. I thought the fact significant, given that some of the founders of the kibbutz had been sent away from their parents, perhaps a longing to heal an old wound. They realized the importance of the bond between parent and child for healthy growth.

These were Jewish parents, determined to save their children from perishing, who made the decision to send their children surely to a better life than what they were suffering from in Germany.

Learning of their circumstances shook me to my core, and my heart broke for their parents. Sending my beloved son as a refugee? Praying his life would be better than if he stayed with me. I can’t even imagine bearing such a choice, likely never to see him again. I wondered if I could have been that strong.

Yet in the cases of these Mexican immigrants we are talking about, the parents aren’t deciding to send their children from them, they are trying to better their lives together. The United States government is ripping the children away from their parents, too close to what Nazi Germany did for my endorsement. Of course, the children aren’t being exterminated…but how is their psyche being destroyed? Will they ever learn to trust again? Will they be insecure and cling to any person who offers them security? The damage done by this atrocity will be played out in the lives of these thousands of kids and we’ll never know their stories endings. But they will live with the consequences every day of their lives. Empathetically, I feel their pain.

Aren’t these Mexican parents and all immigrants who came to this country also trying to give their kids a better life? And yes, I understand all of this costs money to help absorb the weary and downtrodden. But separating the innocent children from their parents…can’t we do a better, more humane job of balancing law with compassion?

And now as a country we are creating instead of healing wounds. Zero tolerance? President Trump, you’re correct. There should be zero tolerance for your cruel policy.



Why the Trump administration bears the blame for separating children from their families at the border By Philip Bump June 15, 2018 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2018/06/15/why-the-trump-administration-bears-the-blame-for-separating-children-from-their-families-at-the-border/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.efcbfa279155

2 Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reno_v._Flores

3 Holocaust Encyclopedia, https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005260

4 Holocaust Encyclopedia, https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005260

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