The Trump administration’s decision to rip immigrant parents from their children is evil. This is as obvious to me as the color of the sky.

Many U.S.-Americans-although not nearly enough-have raised their voices in righteous protest against this misuse of executive power.

But we haven’t felt this same outrage when parents are separated from their children due to incarceration as a result of arrest and/or conviction for a felony. This is perceived as routine, appropriate, necessary, and maybe even just.

If we believe that the parent-child bond is inviolable (except in cases of severe abuse) and that parents don’t forfeit their parental rights simply by breaking laws, why don’t we grieve for the children of criminalized parents?

Of course, many of these immigrant families are not breaking any laws. As asylum-seekers, they can receive safe harbor only by crossing an international border. It is the Trump administration that lacks respect for the law.

But would our outrage cool if the law were changed tomorrow? Would we accept the separation of children from parents if it suddenly became illegal to seek asylum?

I don’t think we would. At least, I hope we wouldn’t.

After all, we oppose the state-sanctioned kidnapping of immigrant children due in no small part to the harm it causes them. The sudden loss of a parent does not become less traumatic simply because one’s parent did something wrong.

Our government tears breastfeeding babies out of their mothers’ arms every day in prisons all across the country. But, these women are felons not immigrants; in the minds of most of us, they deserve what they get because, unlike their newly victimized immigrant counterparts, they are guilty.

The logic that accepts and even promotes the dismemberment of criminalized families parallels that which cheers on the destruction of immigrant families. We just disagree with conservatives about what makes someone deserving of a stint behind bars.

In fact, I argue, the routine and utterly normalized separation of criminalized parents from their children has made the separation of immigrant families morally thinkable and politically possible.

Family has long been only for those who find themselves on the right side of the law. No wonder then that so many of our xenophobic countrywomen and men also believe it should be only for those who find themselves on the right side of a border.

One in nine black children has been separated from a parent due to this country’s antiblackness supremacist criminal “justice” system. Can we muster some outrage for them, too?

3 thoughts

  1. Very well said Katie. Our current prison system is inhumane and ineffective. It needs radical reform.

    Many Blessings

  2. Watching from Australia and feeling horrified – I think your analysis is spot on (disturbingly so). I heard Sarah Huckabee Sanders justifying the actions of removing the children of immigrants at the border because their parents had broken the law. She referred to US citizens breaking the law and the same consequences applying. Thanks for this piece.

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