This isn’t heartbreaking or gut wrenching. This is legitimately traumatizing. As a parent, having my children kidnapped from me like this is my worst nightmare. America did this to parents who were fleeing violence and persecution, who came to the United States hoping to find safety. But modern Republicans are fiercely xenophobic and greeted them with terror and horror, by taking away their children.
This is what Republicans—and the evangelical Christians who enable them—stand for.
What It Looks Like to Care for Separated Migrant Children
by Caitlin Dickerson, for The New York Times
Ms. Acevedo was just settling into the role when things suddenly became more chaotic, in the late summer of 2017. Unlike the teenagers she was used to working with, who had intentionally crossed the border alone, the separated children who began to arrive were inconsolable when they reached her. Each new one seemed to traumatize the rest all over again. “It was horrible,” she said. “We could not do work. It was just a classroom full of crying kids all day.”
Even after covering family separations for over a year, as an immigration reporter for the National desk at The New York Times, I was struck by how much they uprooted not only the lives of family members who were divided from each other, but also the people like Ms. Acevedo who were charged with caring for them. While she was on call, Ms. Acevedo had to be available 24-7. She often waited up after midnight to meet newly separated children arriving at her office, transported from the border by contract workers. She would be roused from bed by phone calls about children who refused to eat or leave their rooms until they were allowed to speak to the parents from whom they had been separated.
Ms. Acevedo was particularly good at soothing them during outbursts, which usually meant going from classroom to classroom and pulling up videos of songs from “Frozen” or “Moana” on her phone. It helped that she could identify with the children. She still remembers the day in first grade when she had to participate in a classroom discussion about family. She didn’t know how to say in English that she didn’t have any siblings, so she lied and said she had a brother.
Many of the parents of children on her caseload ended up being deported, ending any hope of a quick reunion. When that happened, she would meet with her fellow caseworkers and staff therapists, sometimes for hours, to discuss how to break the news to the child. They used pictures and puppets to illustrate the distance between the United States and countries like Guatemala. And they spoke in intentionally vague terms to avoid making false promises about when the children might be able to see their parents again, after learning the hard way that even those who were barely old enough to talk would latch on to any concrete expectation.
“We would have to say, ‘In many, many days you will be reunited with your parent, but we have to do a lot of paperwork,’ ” she told me, mimicking the soft voice she would use with an upset child. “The kids would still be like, ‘O.K., when am I going?’ They would start crying and it wasn’t just tears, it was screams.”
Parents who were in detention would call to ask whether they should give up their asylum claims, as Constantin’s father had. They said they had been promised they would get their children back. Ms. Acevedo would tell them she had received no such assurance from the federal government and could not advise them on how to proceed. “The parents would sign in desperation and then, the next thing you know, they would call me from their home country and say, ‘I’m here, where’s my child? Give me my child back.’”