Recently, we have been bombarded with news of government policies that enforced automatic separation of immigrant children from their parents who were seeking asylum at our Southern border. Defined by federal officials (ICE and Department of Justice) as entering the country illegally, the parents were detained (incarcerated) and the children placed in the “care” of the U.S. Department of Human Services. Although we are told that this practice has stopped, the location of some of these children at this point is still unknown. For the most part, reunification has not occurred and, if and when it does, will be difficult at best. To think that this is the new national practice is not to know this nation’s history.

Children being separated from their families is centuries old in North America. Colonization and the development of the U.S. economy required this pattern. Families took a back seat to economic expedience.  Invoking God, the Bible, Manifest Destiny, national security, fear of violence, racial purity, and entitlement–all have been cited to justify ripping children away from their parents.  To single out the Japanese internment during World War II as the prime example of this policy ignores a previous 300-year history, whether the children were:

  • European – urban and poor children kidnapped and transported into indenturedservitude
  • African – 25 percent of the captives sold and transported in the Middle Passage into slavery werechildren
  • Native American – children removed from traditional territories and placed in Indian Schools to be transformed from “savages” to “civilized” beings
  • African American – children as property were sold from their parents for profit (1641-1865)

Significantly, in the United States of America, based upon 2015 data, a large number of juvenile delinquents aged 15-18 were removed from their homes and placed in residential facilities for punishment and supposed rehabilitation. The following reflects that practice through percentages by ethnicity:

  • European-descended, 31.3%;
  • African-descended, 41.9%;
  • Latin-descended, 21.9%;
  • Native American-descended, 1.7%;
  • Asian-descended, 5%.

In many ways we are numbed and inured to the abuse of children. This country has bullied those who are perceived as weak and ignored its wrong-doing by justifying policies and practices as answers to exceptional circumstances when, in fact, they are the rule, particularly for those identified as “the other.” For the most part, traditionally, the U.S. has more favorably supported initiatives to protect animals and pets than children.

However, the outrage and response to this current and ongoing public destruction of families is encouraging. Along social, religious, cultural, and economic lines, it seems that many residents of this land are listening to their consciences. Maybe there is hope after all, as citizens have begun challenging the administration’s policies.

This Fourth of July, Independence Day, requires cultural and self-examination. Do we care?  If so, when do we start valuing men, women, children, and families by:

  • believing that quality education, housing, and health care are human and civil rights?
  • supporting a universal living wage?
  • creating policies that empower this nation to be a place of sanctuary and opportunity for all?

With only a few exceptional hiccups such as Social Security, the 15thAmendment, Medicare, and the Affordable Health Care Act, this country has been walking in lock-step with the Founding Fathers who set the pattern of selective entitlement and privilege while mouthing high ideals. Our mistake, thank goodness, has been that we thought their intention was universal, “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” so we’ve been stretching the application ever since. We beseech every citizen to vote, to actively participate as citizens not losing faith in political power, and to protect us all by constantly challenging and then reversing the wrong that is done in our name.

Happy Fourth of July — Make it mean something this year.