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When I was a young boy, my daddy pulled up quick in our dirt driveway one day. He jumped out of the truck and started loading up the hunting dogs. He had shot a deer but lost its trail.
I gleefully jumped in the truck and we drove off. I still vividly remember going through the woods, looking for traces of blood and listening to the dogs and, finally, finding the deer. We returned triumphant.
We also returned to scorn.
I have hardly ever seen anyone so angry and relieved in the same emotion. Neither of us had told Ma that I was going with Daddy, and the whole family was in an uproar. I had been abducted, or killed, they were sure. My poor grandmother—Ma said she had been wandering up and down the road, checking the ditches, calling my name and wailing so loud you could hear it down the road. Now that I have two small children of my own, I can only imagine what she experienced at that moment. I wasn’t there to see it, but that image of her is as vivid as the image of that day in the woods. It is the very picture of grief.
How awful to lose a child. To compound that pain with the uncertainty of death or abduction—to have your child occupy both worlds in your mind. Now, imagine a government had taken your children away and detained them. Imagine you had already been traumatized by poverty or violence. Imagine you had been told your child would just be taken to get a shower and they were never returned to you. Imagine you had been given the wrong number to call and find them. Both of your futures uncertain and, mortifyingly, separate.
This separation is happening on our southern border right now. As immigrants are detained, their children are being separated as a part of the current administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy. How can we justify that? If you read the above and felt anything for what my grandmother felt—maybe you could self-identify with her experience as a rural American, the bonds of family, the experience of losing a small child in whom you have invested so much of your own care and love yet refusing to believe in that loss and still searching—you should make the leap to extending that identification with the experiences of others. Those of us from and in rural communities can’t look the other way on this thing; it runs against the grain of what so many of us know about human experience. Whatever your position on immigrants entering this country, we cannot abide such a horrifying separation.
This forcible separation is not a part of the policy debate about immigration policy reform. This particular instance is about the United States of America actively ripping families apart. You cannot be a “family values” voter and look the other way on this one. If you are religious, I am certain your religion demands you look right at it.
As we look back in coming years, much will be said about how this family separation policy impacted these children. And I am certain that what we are doing to these kids is inhumane. But in the moment: I hear a grandmother’s wailing. I hear a name called over and over into the air. I see ditches searched and hear mercy called for. I hear the uncertainty and refusal of response.
Jonathan L. Bradshaw is from rural Eastern North Carolina and now teaches rhetoric and writing in Western North Carolina.