Op-EdMarian Wright EdelmanOpinion

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Do You Care? How Much? What Will You Do Now?

“I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” were the puzzling and provocative words on the coat first lady Melania Trump chose to wear when she visited the Texas border for the first time to be briefed about children cruelly separated from parents and shipped around the nation by abusive Trump administration zero tolerance anti-immigration policies and practices.

Were the six words showcased on her clothing simply thoughtless or callous or a challenge to those who care deeply about child wellbeing and are desperate to stop the inhumane practice of taking children from parents, some less than a year old, and shunting them to unknown destinations with strangers to be handed over to more strangers for care?

I can only imagine the terror and despair felt by over 2,000 severed children and parents. It is sickening that thousands of children have been snatched from parents in a strange land and placed with strange caregivers, who may not speak their language, in detention facilities — even cages — with no timeline for how and when they will be reunited with their parents who may not know where they are. What cruel and unusual punishment for a country that purports to be civilized! This is national terrorism that shames us all!

As the Trump administration continues cruel policies which sever crucial child-parent bonds and ignores due process protections under American law, as more children and families continue to be confined in detention and other facilities, I hope our voices will reach a thundering roar to penetrate the moral deafness of this administration. The anti-immigrant sentiment whipped up by the intemperate rhetoric of our president is similar to another historic period of toxic hatred, bigotry and intolerance during slavery which dehumaninzed millions and severed family bonds. We must meet today’s snatching of children from parents with roaring nonviolent resistance.

In his famous 1852 Fourth of July address, the brilliant former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass said, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages….”

How will an immigrant child snatched from parents by strangers understand our national holiday? Amidst loud fireworks and colorful parades and eloquent speeches about freedom will she recognize the lofty promises in our Declaration of Independence or the truth in Frederick Douglass’ words?

When children study today’s history a generation from now, I hope they will learn about a groundswell of people of conscience in America who were on the right side of history and fought back attempted cruel internment of innocent children who had the bad luck to be born in tyrannical countries only to flee to a new tyranny of American family breakup. All those who take seriously the commandments to love one another and treat others as we want to be treated must continue to speak out relentlessly to welcome those fleeing tyranny and ensure they do not face political tyranny in our nation. We must make clear that “Yes, we really do care” and do whatever is necessary to stop the shameful national child abuse that tarnishes our nation.

Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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