My daughter’s first pair of shoes were a present from her aunty. A palm-width long, green-grey dotted with gold stars, white sole, single Velcro strap. She’d been running around with that manic toddler waddle for a while, the eye watering one where every step seems to just save them from face planting to the ground. Probably a little overdue, her shoes were an instant passport to a whole new world of roaming. She could now run unhindered in the playground, in the shops, down the street to her aunty’s house. As you can imagine her shoes brought her unfettered joy, the innocent happiness of a child. She loves her shoes, she grabs them at every opportunity and rushes to the door, even grabs my trainers and tries to put them on my feet if Daddy is too slow.
My daughter looks down at her feet in the exact same way the little girl in this picture does. Her mop of wavy dark brown hair looks just like hers. When she cries, my heart breaks. When I look at this little girl staring down at her shoes, and moments later crying for her mother, I see my own little girl. I cannot stomach it.
The US-Mexico border has been a contentious issue in US politics since before Trump began his populist anti-immigration drive that propelled him into the White House, but his ever-escalating rhetoric has led here. The chants of “build that wall” have morphed into a horrifying reality: children and even babies in actual cages.
Despite the Trump administration protestations that “this is the law” the legal situation that has suddenly seen thousands of children taken into state custody and separated from their parents is not quite as simple.
Entry into the United States outside of a recognised port was previously prosecuted in civil court. Pre-trial incarceration used to be the exception, not the rule. Child caring responsibilities are supposed to be a mitigating circumstance AGAINST jailing parents. Children are only removed if there is concern they are being abused. Imagine being arrested pending trial for not paying parking tickets, your child forcibly removed to state custody, a state system without the capacity or will to reunite you.
The decision to prosecute and hold both illegal entrants and asylum seekers as criminal cases, not civil, is the “zero tolerance” policy of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Trump. Children cannot accompany their parents to prison, so they are separated at the border, as stricken mothers and fathers are told their child is being “taken for a bath”. The next thing they are told is they won’t see them again.
Why is the Trump administration pursuing a policy so inhumane and so cruel? A policy that has created a huge national and international backlash? The party line is “it’s the law”, or “it’s the Democrats law”. These are plain lies. George W. Bush signed the last legislation covering family separation for immigrants, passed overwhelmingly by both major parties.
Looking beyond this front several officials have admitted this practice is a deterrent, deliberately punishing families that cross illegally. Punishing children, potentially irrevocably so.
Even worse, in response to the international outrage Trump has proposed any new legislation to end family separation is linked to funding for the US-Mexico border wall project. In other words, he will release the children when he gets his money. A United States President, holding children hostage.
At the same time Trump has announced they will pull out of the UN Human Rights Council. For an administration completely lacking in any humanity this seems appallingly appropriate.
As a doctor, I know the physical and mental cost to the children who are put through such a trauma is heavy. The American Academy of Paediatrics has publicly condemned the practice, equating the psychological and developmental harm this causes to child abuse.
As a father, I can’t stop looking at this picture of this little girl with her shoes. I cannot stomach the horrifying footage of children in cages. I cannot fathom how any human being of moral conscience cannot see the evil in this, or worse, try to defend it.
The American Civil Liberties Union is currently in the process of suing the government in a national class action suit to desist and reverse the policy of family separation. You can donate here.
President Trump will visit the U.K. in early July. If you believe this policy is a stain on any decent society, come to London or Scotland or wherever he scurries to and let him know.
My daughter’s shoes bestowed a gift of freedom and happiness. This little girl has neither. Our children will one day ask us where we were and what we did during this turbulent period in history. I want to be able to look my daughter in the eye and tell her humanity and decency prevailed because we stood up for it.
So stand up.