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Expat Life

Watching a little girl grow up and thoughts on separating children from their mothers

My apartment is in a large adobe building with a garden courtyard and, for  those of us on the second floor, a wide balcony circling the courtyard. Immediately to the right of my door are the stairs down to the ground floor. When I moved here five years ago my upstairs neighbors were Pablo and Melina and their one-year-old daughter, Maria, so  whenever they come or go they pass by my door, which I keep open much of the time.

Unlike most of the other tenants, Melina speaks English so it was easy for them to stop and talk and get acquainted. For me, all infants are adorable and  becoming attached to Maria was inevitable. Often, she would come into my apartment and we would play together. As the years went by, she and I learned the simple greeting and good bye words in English and Spanish and the heart warming moments were innumerable.

Now, she is in first grade and in a dance class (I get a demonstration from her from time to time). Melina stopped by the other day and invited me to the end of year performance, and I said yes. I rode in a taxi with Melina and her father, who I had never met. We were early and the performance was late so we sat on a bench and in my broken Spanish and his broken English and a lot of smiling we had an enjoyable time. Melina’s brother and families of the other performers gradually arrived, the front door of the house opened, and in we went.

Dancing to the music

It was a small, long room, the music started and eight or so costumed dancers came out to perform. They danced, talked, left and returned to the stage and I finally figured out that the one hunched up on the floor, moving slowly and eating leaves was a caterpillar and sure enough, it became a butterfly. The performance, with the inevitable mistakes here and there, went very well. I felt privileged to be invited and glad that I went.

Thinking about Maria leads me to the plight of the mothers and children on the U.S. southern border. I am pretty good at being able to put some problem aside and continue with my day to day life but the plight of those children and mothers keeps invading my brain.

It is morally outrageous in this situation to separate children from their mothers. The child needs to have that bond, if not with the mother some other adult family member, to provide the child’s sure source of safety. If that bond is broken it will cause significant damage to the child which much of the time is irreparable.

The cause of the increased immigration to the U.S. since 2014 is violence in the gang-controlled countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala where “cooperate or die” is the “rule of law”. Whether directly threatened or not, people feel compelled to leave. Very often a mother has an agonizing choice to make: stay and possibly (sometimes assuredly) face death for herself or loved ones, or leave. Choosing to leave is not irresponsible behavior. Criminals attempting to cross the border is a separate and, although important, relatively minor problem which is handled by an efficient separate section of ICE.

We do have the right to determine who we take in as prospective citizens. We need more immigrants to keep our economy going. There are UN mandates on the treatment of refugees. The U.S. own laws. There are more people than usual wanting to enter the U.S. It is a monumental mess.

But the bottom line for me is that we must treat people humanely, and much of the way we are treating immigrants is not humane. We need to continue the pressure to change inhumane practices. We also need to allocate much more money to the immigration services to eliminate the horrendous two- and three-year delay in making decisions in each case. That can be a beginning towards revising our outdated immigration laws.