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A new moral, human low

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN | 12/11/2018, 12:37 p.m.
It has come to this: tear-gassing toddlers. Heartbreaking images of the American government’s attacks on asylum-seekers at the border have ...

Children’s Defense Fund

It has come to this: tear-gassing toddlers. Heartbreaking images of the American government’s attacks on asylum-seekers at the border have emerged over the past several days.

In one photo, a barefoot child in a diaper sobs, clutching her mother with one hand and a plastic ball – a lone prized possession – with the other. Her mother, who was pictured in a second photo desperately trying to flee from the tear gas with her two young children, told an interviewer, “I felt sad, I was scared. I wanted to cry. That’s when I grabbed my daughters and ran. I thought my kids were going to die with me because of the gas we inhaled.”

When I saw those pictures, I was instantly transported back to Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 – to segregationist Police Chief Bull Connor’s use of vicious police dogs and powerful fire hoses to attack Black children marching for their freedom.

I often say that I do this work because I don’t want my grandchildren fighting the same fights we did back then. And yet here we find ourselves, with my grandchildren and young people across the country witnessing our government attacking small children for daring to dream of a better life.

President Trump and administration officials act as if gassing babies at the border is business as usual, just as they did when the public cried out about our government ripping children from the arms of their parents and putting them in indefinite detention in cages and tent cities.

But nothing about this is “usual,” and we must not allow ourselves to become inured to cruelty and injustice. This is not who we should be as a nation. We must continue to come together, speak out at every turn, and take a stand against the outrageous atrocities being committed by President Trump under the guise of keeping Americans “safe.”

The Children’s Defense Fund is working at the heart of this issue. When too few were paying attention to the incarceration of asylum-seeking women and children in harmful for-profit detention centers, our Texas office fought to stop these detention centers from receiving state-issued child care licenses that would have allowed more children to be incarcerated there for even longer periods of time. CDF-Texas was one of the first organizations to report the shameful practice of separating children and babies from their parents on the border.

Next weekend, our Texas office will hold a vigil to protest the most recent attacks on asylum seekers.

A Texas resident who recently attended a CDF-led rally said, “I am happy so many are committed to peaceful protest. I know we will continue to rally, write our representatives, and speak out until all families are reunited, people seeking asylum are not turned away at our borders, people detained are given due process, and ‘immigrant’ is not a pejorative. … This country was built by immigrants. Our diversity is what makes us strong. Do not give up.”

We must never ever give up, and we must keep fighting these evil acts. This administration’s attacks aren’t limited to small children and families outside our borders; they are taking action to harm immigrant families already in America, too.