Like many people, I spent the weekend enjoying the beautiful weather — in my case, with my 4-year-old toddler and 8-week-old newborn. During late night feedings and naps, though, I also spent hours on social media. I shared happy pictures of my babies, but also, in a heartbreaking juxtaposition, pored over the latest news from the border.
For those who haven't read about it, multiple news outlets, from the New York Times to Fox News, reported that hundreds of children as young as 2 are being held in inhumane conditions. They are in overcrowded cells, without soap or toothbrushes, without diapers or clean clothes, sleeping on cold floors with the lights on all night. Older children are doing their best to comfort other children they have only just met. Attorneys from the Justice Department argued that none of this violated their legal duty to provide "safe and sanitary" conditions for children.
Beyond the latest reports, we also know that thousands of children have been separated from their parents and that there have been thousands of reports of sexual assault and abuse in these detention facilities. In the past year alone, at least seven children have died in detention — after a decade of no deaths.
We have all heard the grotesque stories of children in the U.S. being held captive in basements, sexually abused and tortured by strangers and family members alike. I know we recoil at these stories, usually recounted in tearful interviews with People magazine or special reports on television. Who among us, if we knew this was happening, would decline to help one of these children? And yet, this kind of horrific treatment is happening on a mass scale, perpetrated by our very own government. And maddeningly, we have known about it for at least a year.
As I read report after report, I felt increasingly saddened, enraged and frustrated at the overwhelming scope of the problem and my own humble ability to do anything meaningful to affect change. My frustration grew worse as I searched phrases like "how to help migrant children" and "protests for migrant children" only to see articles from exactly a year ago, when there was a public outcry that resulted in Families Belong Together marches across the country. There were only a handful of search results from this year. How, in a whole year, has this continued?
This crisis should be front page news and front-of-mind daily. We cannot forget that this is not normal, not something to be turned away from because the images and stories are too sad to bear and seemingly beyond our control. We must continue seeking information about how to address this crisis in any and every way possible. For me, that means making humble donations to organizations that are providing legal representation nationally, like the ACLU and RAICES and humanitarian aid, like Kino Border Initiative, the International Rescue Committee and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service — the latter two of which have offices and employees right here in Baltimore.
As someone who has worked in the nonprofit sector my entire career, I know that even the smallest of gifts (and believe me, with two children, mine are small!), are welcomed gratefully.
For me, addressing this crisis means desperately Googling protests like Lights for Liberty, which will hold candlelight vigils at border facilities and the U.S. Capitol Building on the evening of July 12. It means building relationships with other concerned citizens to ensure that we're thinking of every possible way to help. It means writing daily letters to our elected representatives, who have been far too quiet on this issue. It means posting regularly on social media to keep the conversation alive. And, it means writing an op-ed in The Baltimore Sun.
Whether you agree with current asylum laws (and it is federal law that immigrants have a legal right to seek asylum), surely we must all agree that no fellow human — much less a child — deserves this kind of treatment. We cannot turn away.
Kate Sam (firstname.lastname@example.org) is director of communications at Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake; the thoughts expressed here are her own.