Think About It: Women and children first

July Fourth, 2018, Independence Day, the 242nd anniversary of the birth of our nation, an intentional democracy designed to be governed by the people and for the people … the only real confusion of terms revolves around who those people are.

It isn’t everyone. Early on, people, by definition, had certain characteristics such as being a male and a property owner.

Ever so slowly the United States of America begin to include more characteristics that allowed more people to live under the protection of the original Constitution and its amendments. The trip to equality and inclusion has been long and marred by a history of exclusion, cruelty and exploitation.

Today, we have growing internal conflict over who is worthy to become an American in this land of immigrants. The unanswered question has escalated into inflicting deliberate pain on families seeking a home here, including the most vulnerable, to keep them out.

People (insert your term here – undocumented, illegal, refugee) crossing our southern border to seek (work, freedom from violence, better life for their kids, to join family, be criminals) by coming to America met the unexpected in June.

The Department of Justice under the direction of President Trump implemented a policy of arresting all those who committed the misdemeanor of stepping onto our land without an invitation.

The warning had been sent right before implementation that it meant children would be taken or “separated” from their parent. After all, when people are arrested, their children typically don’t accompany them to jail.

The thought behind the new policy of enforcement was that separation from children would serve as a deterrent. Seems the people with children didn’t get the memo during their travels through Mexico. Once here, they trusted the word of the border agent who said there wasn’t room on the bus, so their children must ride separately. Most were frightened upon their arrival at the detention center when they learned their children went somewhere else.

Strangely, the government has been reluctant to expose locations but gradually, reporters have learned that children of varying ages were moved as far away as Washington state and New York City.

The warnings were immediate from psychiatric and medical experts of the harm being done to children by abrupt, unexplained separations from a parent. The outrage was immediate from many elected officials of both parties and immigrant activists.

Outrage, sadness, fear and a sense of being powerless for the mothers, fathers and abandoned children was immediate for ordinary people like me. How does such cruelty to children happen here in our country? Where does the mindset come from that believes these children and their mothers can be sacrificed for an end that justifies the means? What do we call a power that is exercised just because “he or she can?”

The President calls for the question

Finally, through the turmoil of emotion, crying children and political name-calling, we began to get an explanation of the problem. Our laws related to the borders either result in separation or, sending unmonitored people out into the country, who never return for their hearing. The primary cause is the lack of systems, system controls and personnel to process the numbers of people crossing our borders.

Even now, Congress can’t seem to get its act together to pass coherent border security and immigration laws; they haven’t for a at least a decade (or five).

The President called the question. Problem is that he did so without an answer and without concern for the human cost. He created a crisis, one that doesn’t touch him. Even though he pulled back his separation order, his rhetoric continues to dehumanize these fathers, mothers and children.

His America doesn’t want them here.

None of it is new, just different targets. We are reminded by our history of slave families that were separated on a regular basis or Native Americans who were driven off their lands and denied their history and, more practically, a livelihood.

The strategy is the same. Exercise power over the most vulnerable, in many cases, the most trusting. Treat them as less than human. Emasculate men by taking away their ability to protect their families. Threaten women with the loss of their children or, worse, take them away. Show children that they are the most vulnerable and their parents can’t protect them.

Have you heard the experts describe how small children freeze up when alone and threatened because that’s all they can do?

Slow drumbeat of democracy

On this July 4th, I wonder and worry whether we will become the inhumanity or reject it by insisting we uphold our basic foundations and structure of democracy. I wonder and worry if this democracy can make itself answer important questions for our future.

Can we handle being a multi-cultural nation?

Can we share our bounty?

Can we build in mechanisms that periodically disrupt the status quo or the bureaucracy without causing fear and displacement?

Can we, in practice put children first in line for safety? Can we make women less vulnerable when they choose to have children?

A part of our democracy has been and is a continuous drumbeat moving toward equal access to opportunity, access without prejudice and/or undue advantage. Our structure of a three-part government, representative government and a system of laws and order has held together the promise and cautions those in power.

Lately, I feel our country has become a bucking horse trying to throw off the “others,” “the misfits” as defined by someone in power or, worse, throw off our democracy?

What do you want to see on the nightly news?

Bertha Cooper spent her career years as a health care organization and program administrator and consultant and is a featured columnist in Sequim Gazette. Cooper has lived in Sequim with her husband for nearly 20 years.