Friday, July 6, 2018

Home: A Nation Rallies to Keep Families Together

The Children Are Watching                            

The US government’s cruel separation of families seeking asylum at our border with Mexico has spread a collective grief across the nation unlike perhaps anything seen since the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.  Just as the nation thought no grief could exceed the pain of the shootings of little children at Sandy Hook Elementary School or the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School just this past spring, the growing awareness that our own government is holding little children hostage to try to force their parents to give up their asylum claims and return to eminent dangers in their Central American communities has once again sent us into mourning. 

These tragic events have more in common than grief:  they reveal the deep divides between – “we the people”  -- and the people in power. The school shootings have inspired activism – led this time by the students themselves, while at the same time shutting down elected officials essentially owned by the gun lobby.  The now public separation of families, coldly justified as protecting America from hordes of MS-13 gangsters, has awakened Americans to action. This can’t be happening in our name.

On Saturday, June 30, a day breaking heat records all across the country, Americans in more than 700 cities and towns marched to say Keep Families Together. Do not separate families in our name:  we are not afraid. The rallies coincided with rulings by two different federal judges that children cannot be separated from parents seeking asylum; one judge gave a deadline of 14 days for reuniting children under 5 years of age with their parents, and a deadline of 30 days for older children.  Another federal judge ruled that individuals who pass the credible fear interview should be granted humanitarian parole instead of indefinite detention as is currently imposed by the U.S. As I’ve written in previous posts, the government is stalling, says the deadlines are unrealistic because they don’t actually know where all these more than 2500 children have been taken.   And besides, who knows if the people claiming to be their parents aren’t maybe child traffickers or perverts!  I’m not joking, that’s an official pronouncement coming out of various federal agencies whose confusing jurisdictional domains obscure where the children are and who is responsible for the reunifications. 

There will be more stalling, more tragic stories of toddlers “representing” themselves in immigration hearings, more brave insider reports of the tears (and silences) of children held for months without their parents.

And there will be more rallies, more activism, up against even more barriers now that the Supreme Court will most certainly be even more hostile to immigrants and their rights.

And there will be more things that happen to inspire and build common cause on behalf of the families and individuals who risked their lives to come here because they believed in the US tradition of welcoming those “yearning to breathe free.” 

One of the most powerful moments among the many moving testimonies from the June 30 rallies occurred in a small city in northern California when a woman stood to read a poem by a Somali poet. The poem is “Home.” The poet is Warzan Shire,,  a British/Somali woman. The message is simple:  “you have to understand….no one leaves home …no one puts their children in a boat/ unless the water is safer than the land.” 

I found several variations of Shire’s poem and share this one in the hope that it conveys the power to teach us who these seekers are – the neighbors who come to our borders with their children.


no one leaves home unless 
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats

the boy you went to school with

who kissed you dizzy behindthe old tin factory

is holding a gun bigger than his body.

you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one would leave home unless home chases you,

fire under feet,

hot blood in your belly.
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck

and even then you carried the anthem under your breath,

waiting until the airport toilet
to tear up the passport and swallow,
each mouthful of paper making it clear that
you would not be going back.

you have to understand, 
no one puts their children in a  boat
unless the water is safer than the land.

who would choose to spend days
and nights in the stomach of a truck
unless the miles travelled
means something more than

no one would choose to crawl under fences,
be beaten until your shadow leaves you,
raped, then drowned,

forced to the bottom of 

the most because you are darker,

be sold, starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,

be pitied, lose your name, lose your
make a refugee camps a home for a 
year or two or ten,
stripped and searched,
find prison everywhere

and if you survive and you are
greeted on the other side
with go home blacks


dirty immigrants

asylum seekers

sucking our country dry of milk,
dark, with their hands out
smell strange, savage
look what they’ve done to their own 
what will they do to ours?

the dirty looks in the street
softer than a limb torn off,
the indignity of everyday life
more tender than fourteen men
who look like your father,
between your legs,
insults easier

to swallow

than rubble
than bone
than your child’s body in pieces –

for now, forget about pride

your survival is more important.

I want to go home,

but home is the mouth of the shark

home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home tells you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
be hunger
beg forget your pride

your survival is more important

leave what you could not behind,
even if it was human.

no one leaves home until home
is a damp voice in your ear saying
leave, run now,

i don’t know what

I’ve become
but I know that anywhere

is safer than here.

     - Warzan Shire 

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