DIANE PHILLIPS: In the name of human kindness, what has become of America?


Diane Phillips


A CHILD cries out, her outstretched arms clinging to her mother as officials tear her away, her tiny trusting fingers nearly ripping Momma’s skin holding on for one last futile second. Her mother’s pleas go unheeded. She weeps and screams silently, trying not to scare the child being carried off, begging just as futilely in a language the guards may not even understand, explaining she was willing to lose all she had in her homeland, but not willing to lose the child she birthed and nursed and cradled as she fled to what she hoped would be a safer place only to be separated from the one thing she loved the most in the world, her baby.

How many times in the last week have we seen this image and images like it and cried out ourselves? How, how in the name of humankind, can this be happening, we ask? And how, of all places, could it be happening in America, a land built on the backs, talents and strengths of migrants in search of a better life?

The scenes that move us to tears as we shake our heads in disbelief are not the stuff of horror films, bleak and buried days of past world wars and the closeted sins of mankind. They are not the work of brutal dictators whose languages and culture are so different from ours we can only assume they will never “be like us”.

The problem is the scenes are that much more troubling because they are happening in the here and now in a country that feeds us, fuels our economy and that we think of as “like us”. We dress like them. We talk like them. Our children go to their colleges or trade schools. We hope those children come home afterward but they don’t always because they feel comfortable in the place where a lot of people are “like us”. We shop at their Wal-marts and the Starbuck’s we drink comes from their Starbuck’s. So much like us and yet for all the transgressions that we have been charged with in connection with the Carmichael Road Detention Centre and the repatriation of Jamaicans, Haitians and others who try to enter The Bahamas illegally, we have never been accused of separating mothers from their children and warehousing little ones in places that look like overgrown dog pens.

Still, there is a frightening similarity. The abuses we now see occurring on the borders of the United States as a zero tolerance for illegal migration is being enforced are the result of failure to deal with a growing immigration problem for decades.

Successive governments in America, state and federal, have done exactly what we have done, sometimes harshly enforced the law, sometimes wavered, sometimes when convenient, ignored. Mostly, they let the whole subject of immigration fester.

And then it erupted. The people who are “like us”, led by a take-charge bully president who promised to build a wall between the southern US border and Mexico, continued to talk to his loyal fan base, and said America would deal with it once and for all. As that forceful president wrapped his arms around an American flag at the same moment another child was being ripped from her mother’s arms, America was a nation divided.

A majority of citizens, Democrats and Republicans alike, were outraged, calling the action of separating parents from children and warehousing young ones everything from “abhorrent” to “inhumane”. Every living First Lady, Republican and Democrat, begged President Donald Trump to stop, saying all it would take is a phone call, while he continued to blame it on past administrations.

Yet, there were some who believed that the drastic action would send a warning to others not to try to enter the US illegally. It would teach them a lesson, just stay where you are and leave America for Americans, forgetting, of course, that had their ancestors done that, there would be no America. That the US President Donald Trump also decided America should withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council the same week that all the fury about separating families swirled hardly registered a sidebar headline.

Those who favoured the rough treatment as a deterrent argued that all the people who were fleeing violence in their own home country, including those who had watched loved ones being murdered before their eyes, all they had to do was go through processing and enter legally. And that’s what they did – the very people crossing the border and going through processing centres were the very ones who having made it that far would now be separated from each other, an act compared more than once this week to the last dark days of America when the Japanese were interred in camps simply because they were Japanese.

Problems are like boils. They don’t go away because you ignore them. They fester and fester until they explode.

What is happening to our neighbours is a stark reminder of what tenterhooks we stand on in The Bahamas. We are a nation divided just like America. We want cheap labour yet we fear outsiders who can provide cheaper labour than we are willing to provide and might even work harder or longer hours. We distrust that. Our immigration policy, if there is one, reflects that dichotomy – a mixture of what we need and what we fear as opposed to a broad-based, comprehensive policy that provides for standardized processing of persons who will enrich The Bahamas.

Whether we set a certain number of approved migrants per year or divide it by skill sets, we need to look at what it will take to grow the economy, broaden our arts and social culture, enhance our education and bridge our technology gap.

Until we take that broad look and stop rallying around the fear and resentment of those who are not Bahamian, we run the risk of one day boiling over just like those who are “like us” did in America.

Immigration is that boil that has not yet popped. Let us pray that as the Royal Bahamas Defence Force continues to do its job, we do ours as humans and never separate a mother from a child, crying, clinging, not understanding, a mother asking what is so terrible that we want to come to your country because we may be killed in ours? What is so terrible that we want to work hard and will obey your laws and will teach our children to be kind? What is so terrible about us, other than we were not born here? We were not so lucky as you.

(This article was written before President Trump bowed to public pressure yesterday afternoon and signed an executive order promising to “keep families together” in migrant detention centres).


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