If you're so heartbroken and outraged over the news this week that you're having trouble distinguishing real life from a nightmare, you're not alone. As thousands of families seeking asylum continue to be forcibly ripped apart at our borders, with parents being given no assurance that they'll ever see their children again, it seems impossible to carry on with life as if a human rights atrocity isn't happening before your very eyes. As helpless as you might feel, however, you can make your voice heard. So how often should you call your representatives to denounce Trump's family separation policy?
As the stories coming out of detention centers paint an increasingly grim picture, more and more concerned people are desperately (and rightfully) looking for a way to end this abuse. But before you make that call, it helps to make sure that you're perfectly clear on what exactly what the law has to say on this subject... and, perhaps even more importantly, what it does not. As Slate reported, "When Donald Trump and Sarah Huckabee Sanders say that the policy of separating children from their parents upon entry is a law passed by Democrats that Democrats will not fix, they are lying."
Instead, there are two new policies to blame for what's happening now. The first is a policy that "any migrant family entering the U.S. without a border inspection will be prosecuted for this minor misdemeanor." This means that the parents are then incarcerated, leaving the children to be put in detention centers on their own. Parents usually plead guilty to the misdemeanor, Slate said, "and are given a sentence of the few days they served waiting for trial." But even after that, parents are often "given the runaround" when they try to get their kids back, sometimes being deported alone with their children left in HHS custody.
The second, and apparently "unwritten" policy, according to Slate, is that even when a family "presents themselves at a border-entry location, seeking asylum" (which is to say, acting in compliance with immigration law), officials are still taking kids away from their parents. Why? Their excuse is that they need to keep parents jailed for a long time "while their asylum cases are adjudicated," and since the government isn't allowed to keep children in that kind of detention, they have no choice but to separate parents and kids. Just to clarify, this is 100 percent not true, despite what some people seem to believe. It's also completely indefensible, and so shocking that thinking, feeling human beings everywhere are breaking down, even on TV:
With the powers that be essentially making up the rules as they go along to suit their purposes, it's up to the rest of us to join together and demand change. After the way things have been going the past couple of years, chances are you're already somewhat familiar with the process of picking up the phone and calling your senators and representatives. (You might even be actively organizing protests or raising money to help.) But if you haven't called yet, don't be intimidated: It's not hard at all, even if you have no idea who your representatives are. Start with visiting the United States House of Representatives website, where you can enter your zip code to get the names of your local elected officials, then search their contact info. To find out how to reach your senators, you can search them by state on The United States Senate website.
Once you're armed with the appropriate phone number, come up with a message that's powerfully to the point. The ACLU provides the following script on its site, which can of course be modified to reflect the specific target of your communication:
"Hi, my name is [YOUR NAME] and my zip code is [YOUR ZIP]. I’m urging the Senator to denounce Trump’s family separation policy and use all of Congress' authority to stop it."
But how often do you use your script? On its website, the international advocacy organization Global Citizen warns against calling multiple times a day.
"Call until you can get through to speak to someone or leave a voicemail, but don’t call over and over again. This will just block other people from getting through the line."
The more names that can be added to a list of people who oppose something, the better. At the same time, however, don't be afraid of calling multiple times per week. In 2016, Emily Ellsworth, a former staffer for two Republican representatives from Utah whose jobs included answering the phones, made headlines for a series of tweets in which she explained why calling elected officials (and calling them often) is the most effective means of communication. “It brings a legislative issue right to the top of the mind of a member,” she pointed out, according to The New York Times. “It makes it impossible to ignore for the whole staff. You don’t get a whole lot else done.” While emails and letters can easily be ignored, phone calls have to be dealt with, and they're more likely to make waves. That's why, if you have the time and a connection to the issue, it's not a bad idea to personalize the above script (or another like it) with relevant details.
“What representatives and staffers want to hear is the individual impact of your individual story,” said Ellsworth. “I couldn’t listen to people’s stories for six to eight hours a day and not be profoundly impacted by them.”
As the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the oil (just use common sense so other wheels can get through, because there's strength in numbers). It seems the overall message here is plain: Whatever you do, however often you do it, just do something. The time has passed for inaction, and no one can afford to be silent anymore.