Separation Anxiety

Sometimes I walk up our very steep Queen Anne hill. Other times, I use my reduced fare Orca pass and hop on the bus. On Saturday I did just that, after a film and supper in Belltown. I sat in the front, in the seats facing each other. Across from me was a young family, a dark skinned father, mother, and a small girl of around three. They were speaking a language I didn’t recognize, although “papi” is clear in any language. The child was sitting on her mother’s lap, playfully interacting with her father.

As the bus grew more crowded, he graciously got up and moved down the aisle to stand, offering his seat to an elderly woman who had just boarded. He was about 10 feet away from his family, in easy view. The little girl was still securely on her mother’s lap, and she could see her father. No matter. She became anxious and agitated, called out “papi… papi”. She tried wriggling away from her mother. She was inconsolable as long as her father was not right by her side. In a few blocks their stop came, and the man moved forward to his family. They exited the bus together, the little girl once again smiling happily, her head on her father’s shoulder and her arms securely around his neck.

We all know what separation anxiety is. Most of us have likely felt it ourselves, at one point or another. We’ve seen children we love, ours or someone else’s, go from playful to fearful and anxious when they are separated, even for a few minutes, from their primary caregivers.

For this alone, for our common humanity, what’s happening on our southern border is intolerably cruel. The problem of Central American families fleeing violence and extreme poverty is a difficult and complex matter. The problem of children being separated and warehoused to send a message is not complicated. It’s cruel, and wrong, and causes long lasting damage.

Trump presents a binary choice: either let everyone in willy nilly, or act with extreme cruelty and indifference to harden the border. As with so many things, he is deliberately lying. There are far more than those two choices. With a different power structure in Congress and a different president in 2020, we might actually find a decent path forward.

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