I was just 17 years old when I left my sick mother alone in Syria and immigrated to the United States to finish my education. I had already lost my father to the sectarian civil war in Iraq in 2006, and was forced to seek refuge in Damascus before coming to the U.S. Today, my family is now scattered across four different countries.
It’s been ten years now since I left my family, but I still carry the trauma and impact of that separation with me. That is the price immigrants like me pay for seeking refuge in another country. But as painful as my experience was, I can’t begin to fathom what it feels like for immigrant children to be removed from their parents’ arms by force and put behind bars.
Last week, the world celebrated World Refugee Day, a time dedicated to raise awareness about the plight of refugees and immigrants around the world. Today, there are over 68 million individuals forcibly displaced from their homes around the world. Rather than promising to “give us your tired; your poor; your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” the Trump administration is describing refugee immigrants as “infesting” our country, tearing apart families and locking children in metal cages.
With a growing number of photos and videos surfacing of traumatic family separations happening near border towns, it’s shocking to realize how much this resembles fiction like The Handmaid’s Tale that depicts dystopic authoritarian political regimes: a new government takes over, uses religion as a cover for their ultraconservative actions, and forcibly separates children from their mothers and fathers. The similarity between these dystopic depictions and the Trump administration’s actions against immigrant families and other communities of color is uncanny. Whether through a Muslim ban or his attacks on DACA or a zero-tolerance policy, Trump’s reprehensible policies prove that this administration’s priority is not to “make America great again”—it’s to be as xenophobic, racist, and inhumane as possible.
Trump signed an executive order to stop the separation of immigrant families last week, but the excruciating pain and damage he has inflicted upon them is done. His so-called revised policy continues to imprison and dehumanize immigrant families, and just days ago, he claimed that immigrants crossing our borders should not receive due process rights. In short, his actions perpetuate anti-immigrant bigotry and actively work to further demonize immigrants in our nation.
Immigrants are human beings, not aliens.
It’s painfully clear that the Trump administration isn’t simply unaware of what immigrants have to go through to get here—they don’t care. Earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions went even further to limit asylum relief for victims of sexual or domestic abuse, but it’s violence of this exact nature that immigrants are attempting to escape.
As a child, I looked up to America’s immigration policies and dreamed about building a new life in this country because of what it stood for: freedom, opportunity and the pursuit of happiness. The American Dream historically has inspired immigrants to hope for a new life with humanitarian protection that allows them to build their families and contribute to a new society.
But that dream is at stake for thousands of people whose lives are endangered—and we must protect it.
That begins with Republican lawmakers coming together to stand up against these un-American immigration policies. They cannot preach family values and not take legislative action to end the Trump administration’s efforts to deprive families of the safety we promise. Every lawmaker swore an oath to protect the Constitution of the United States and its values.
Trump’s attacks on immigrants undermine those values, and they must be defended at any cost.
Keep families together. Children belong in their parents’ arms, not in detention centers.