I was separated from my parents as a young child. After leaving me in Trinidad under the care of my grandparents, my parents traveled to Canada to set up a home before coming back to retrieve us. The memory of greeting my mother and new baby sister at the airport is still vivid in my mind.
The memories are pleasant ones. They weren’t traumatic visions of being ripped out of my mother’s arms after having escaped from a violent country in search of safety, nor do I remember sleeping in a cage wrapped in a foil blanket, my cheeks salty from dried tears.
It’s a shocking image and only one of many that are splashed across social media and sensationalized by news outlets. Perhaps that’s the objective. Warning. Shock. Terror.
As I safely watched from Canada, I began to recognize that the Trump administration’s efforts to separate children from their parents were not just the consequence of laws being broken. I could see that the intent was much greater. This kind of marginalization is not an effect but rather a deliberate tactic.
After taking the opportunity to falsely blame the Democrats for the separation of families by eliminating facts to confuse the public, Trump used his platform to reverse the situation. His family tweeted loving messages about children and families, while brown-skinned children continued to sleep in cages. Nowhere in his executive order was there a plan or even a mention of what would happen to these minors.
In the meantime, the trauma had already set in. The seed was already planted. These immigrants are outsiders who begged for help. They weren’t invited as guests, a fact they must never forget.
[Read Related: Raised by Immigrants: Misconceptions Versus Reality of the Undocumented American Population]
Attorney General Jeff Sessions justified the separation tactics by quoting biblical scripture, arguing that laws were violated. It’s a cafeteria-style argument, picking and choosing religious statements to pad his defense.
This type of PR actually seems to work because the current administration knows its audience, and its message—“we will protect our own and defend our borders against those who threaten our safe circle”—remains intact. I can’t say that there aren’t people north of the U.S. border who agree with this philosophy. In fact, a similar message was used in Ontario’s recent provincial election, and the bearer of this message won with a majority government.
Protection of our inner circle is a human instinct and results in an organic type of marginalization. The difference is that, when we are made aware of this, many of us open our circle and embrace others because compassion is an inherent part of being human.
But this isn’t about human decency, is it? These children are being used as pawns in a political PR strategy to demonstrate the elected president’s commitment to keep a promise and send a warning. Perhaps the steel wall has not yet been erected (and may never be), but the figurative barrier is still very real and poses a worse threat to Western democracy.
Separation of families has been one of the most used tactics of past government regimes. Memories of families brutally torn apart during the Holocaust in attempts to splinter a bonded culture still send the Jewish community reeling in pain. Indigenous communities were pushed outside the gates of their own safe circles, their children ripped from their arms and forced into residential schools. It’s a smear that Canada is still trying to remove from its own history, but the damage has been done, and the effects are horrifying. Let’s also not forget the U.S. legacy of slavery that included family separations as an admitted tactic of oppression. It’s sadly evident that, although slavery was technically abolished more than 150 years ago, the wall still proves exhausting to scale.
I used to wonder why history continues to repeat itself, despite the fact that our commercial and technological progress has become so powerful in just a short time. Then I realized that it’s about the effectiveness of the tactic. Even a country as progressive as the United States has proven that it is not evolved enough to leave such oppressive measures in the past, but that it will instead continue to reinforce them to support the political agenda of the time.