The southern border of the United States is under siege by a humanitarian crisis. The crisis began in Central America where thousands of helpless citizens who have become imperiled by criminal gangs and their government’s inactions fled their homelands. Seeking refuge, they brought the crisis to our border. But immigration policies of the United States exacerbate the problem and inflict harm that has risen to the level of an atrocity. Separating children from their parents traumatizes children and inflicts torture on their parents. 

Our courts intervened and ordered reunification of families by July 26 (CBS News). By mid-August 2,000 children were reunited with their families, but 500 still remained separated (PBS News Hour). These children are young and unable to adequately identify themselves. Their parents have been hastily deported to undisclosed destinations and are unable to reunite with their children. 

On Tuesday, July 31, FRONTLINE aired an expose that highlighted the trauma inflicted by the separation of families at our southern border. A girl of about 8 who had been reunited with her father after a six-month separation was sullen, sad and withdrawn. Her father reported that the once jubilant, expressive little girl had become reclusive, suspicious, distant, quick to anger, and explosive. Her father wept as he described his traumatized child. He hoped to bring her the promise of a better life.

The image of that child’s face is etched in my mind. She reminded me of how I became an angry 8-year-old boy. In my childhood I was traumatized by Russian oppression as I feared being separated from my parents. In July of 1944, my father disappeared in the chaos of war. In Germany in February of 1945, I thought I had lost my mother in a bombing. Even now, in my old age, I awake from my sleep trembling, startled by nightmares. 

I empathize with that little girl and other children like her. I know that, like me, she will suffer symptoms of PTSD all her life. I know the horror, and I cannot stand mute. 

Millions of children suffering worldwide ought to be considered imperiled. A phrase that was used by many notable men, including Abraham Lincoln, rings in my ears: “No man ever stands as tall as when he stoops to help a child.” 

As our government brutalizes families and traumatizes children, I ask, “How tall does Uncle Sam stand now?” 

I ask myself what can I say or do. I can add my voice to the outcry of the victims. I can protest the injustice of the treatment they receive. I can expose the hypocrisy of our leaders in touting high ideals while they legislate and implement suffering. I can suggest that we as a nation reread the inscription on the Statue of Liberty and urge our legislators not to delay immigration reform. 

Although old age imposes limitations to my capacities, I still can try to attract the attention of my fellow citizens and inspire them to support humanitarian ideals of our nation. America’s greatness lies in her kindness, compassion, and benevolence.

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