Op-Ed

‘Do not look away.’ Find a way to help children, parents detained at the border.

Immigrant families remain separated. So Lexington residents protested.

Shortly after the Trump Administration enacted (and since retracted) a no-tolerance policy, separating immigrant children from their parents, protesters gathered in Lexington.
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Shortly after the Trump Administration enacted (and since retracted) a no-tolerance policy, separating immigrant children from their parents, protesters gathered in Lexington.

“Do not look away,” I urged myself, gazing down at the photo of a toddler lying alone on a large sterile floor.

As I read the corresponding story of the U.S. government’s court arguments defending the denial of toothbrushes, soap, and adequate sleeping conditions for detained migrant children, I repeated the refrain – “Don’t look away.”

It seemed another cruel rung on a ladder of unconscionable treatment of minors. When the photo of a drowned father and his young daughter, together face down in the Rio Grande, inundated social media recently, I once again called upon that refrain. But I am numb. I am numb from the constant trickle of horror stories emerging from the migrant detention centers, not only on the southern border, but across the nation.

One story detailed a 4-month-old baby in a detention center, separated from her parents and left largely to the care of other children. Another told of a teen mother with a newborn infant, neither of whom were provided adequate medical care. Yet another story recounted the death of a migrant child in U.S. custody; there have been a mind-boggling 24 deaths in the detention centers reported thus far.

I am numb, yes, but I can no longer look away. Sometimes social issues can seem so insurmountable that we are paralyzed and do nothing. We are outraged and keep silent. We are emotionally overwhelmed and the unending flood of bad news washes away our will to confront injustice. We feel powerless to have any kind of impact in a situation happening so far from our own borders, so far from Kentucky, and we want to look away. History will judge us harshly for this episode, as it has for our past inhumanities toward one another.

Why is it that most of us read these tragic stories and view these graphic images and do nothing? Where are the better angels within us? Who will be the person speaking for those who have no voice, who will champion the cause of the vulnerable?

“You are your brother’s keeper” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” were not merely feel-good platitudes I learned in church as a child; they are moral imperatives tested in times such as these. It is not enough to be angry, though I am.

This all seems like it is happening far away, but that does not exonerate us from our duty to our fellow humans. We are all just as guilty as lawyers who argue that children should be denied basic needs like beds, toothbrushes, or soap. We are guilty because it is our nation, too. And if we allow them to continue to speak for us, if we do not demand a more just system, we carry the blame on our shoulders. The arc of justice does not bend on its own – it is pushed by those who refuse to sit in silence.

I am a mother and I cannot comprehend what these mothers and fathers have endured to even arrive at the border. I cannot fathom the anguish of being separated from my children with no knowledge of their well-being or when I might see them again. I too was a child once. My mother and father would have moved heaven and earth, sacrificed everything, including their own freedom and their very lives to protect me and provide for me. I would do no less for my own.

This may not seem like a Kentucky issue, but it is a human rights issue and I can remain silent no longer. The values of this commonwealth – our shared humanity, our compassion, our empathy – demand that we find the collective will to act, because otherwise these values will continue to erode from afar. Find some way, any way, to speak for these children and their parents.

I am unable to volunteer on the ground, and writing MY senator will not move the needle, even a little bit. So I am choosing first to give. I have found two organizations helping on the border, so I will do my best to support their efforts, even as I continue to explore other ways to have an impact. We must do something. Find your own way to help. We can’t be silent anymore, because silence says something too. Our silence is louder than we realize. This is OUR country ; do not look away.

Tina Bryson is a writer living in Lexington.

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