Problematic immigration policies are nothing new in this country. For decades, those in power have detained and deported countless immigrants fleeing prosecution and crossing the border. More recently, however, president Donald Trump implemented a "zero tolerance" policy, which resulted in immigrant children being forcibly separated from their parents. It’s the kind of harrowing news that breaks the heart of any feeling parent, and now kids are having heartbreaking reactions to the zero-tolerance policy, too.
My own son is too young to really understand the complexities of the current policy, but he understands basic humanity. He gets what’s right and wrong. When I asked him how he would feel if someone took his mommy away, he got visibly upset. I explained that some people are being forced to live apart from one another, even though they don’t want to. His reaction? "That's not nice."
My son is 4 and he already knows that many people (like my family) leave their home countries to provide a better life for their loved ones. And he gets that, on a very basic level, it’s wrong to separate children from their parents, or detain whole families together. And while Trump signed an executive order he claims will end forced separations, hundreds of children still remain without their guardians and there’s no guarantee these families won’t be separated via deportation later on.
This kind of heartbreaking news leaves many of us parents on edge, and the country is clearly divided on the "zero tolerance" policy (among other things). But when I spoke to a few moms about how their own children are feeling about it, they all had some pretty straightforward answers.
“My 8-year-old made signs and demonstrated against Pence.”
“This morning my 4-year-old was clenching his security object/stuffed animal and started telling us that his ‘lovey’ needed to find his family and that he was sad because he didn't have his mommy and daddy. I think he is understanding what is happening and is scared. I reassured him that his mommy, daddy and abuelita are here for him and that lovey will see his family soon.”
“I explained the basics to my 9-year-old daughter a couple of days ago (to explain why we're marching again next weekend). She is a really baby-focused kid (wants a huge family of her own). She happened to be pretty naked, because it was before bed. She hollered, ‘Get me some pants! I'm going to Washington!’ So that's my new rallying cry."
“My daughter, with a pained look on her face, asked if it could happen to her. I'm ashamed but I lied to her and said no.”
“My son, who is 5, overheard something and asked questions, so I told him a simple version. He immediately teared up and asked if they would take him away from me. I reassured him they wouldn't and felt guilty that so many people can't reassure their kids like that.”
"It's absolutely terrible. It makes me ashamed to be an American. And people try to justify it by saying they're here illegally... they're terrible people, too. Children are supposed to be protected, always. All of them. Not just the ones we decide are worthy. These kids are going to be traumatized."
“My son's 12 and he's definitely a little rattled and sad about this story. It's really making him think about the realities of racism and xenophobia. And he loves to be around his younger cousins, etc., so it's sad for him to think of little kids who don't have anyone to hug and play with them.”
“My 9-year-old daughter Isabella says, ‘Donald Trump is mean. Why would he do such a thing? He is the worst president of the USA.’ She said she was scared she had to sleep with aluminum foil and that ‘they’ would take her. But I explained what was happening and how it isn’t going to happen to her.”