Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and Nairobi, Kenya, and the author of the book “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
The story of the 12 Thai boys stuck in a flooded cave with their soccer coach has captivated the world, and for good reason: It’s a stunning, distressing story of terrified kids in traumatic circumstances, in mortal danger.
We are riveted – concerned about every aspect of their well-being. Do they have enough oxygen? Food? Warm clothes? What are the options for getting them out? How will this trauma affect them?
An international effort is underway to free them. A Thai ex-Navy Seal diver perished while helping with rescue efforts, and even tech billionaire Elon Musk is sending specialist engineers to help.
We are rooting for these young people and their brave rescuers, praying that they will soon be safe and reunited with their frantic families.
But as we all hope and push for the rescue of the Thai boys, there’s another group of trapped, distressed children who also need rescue: The children of immigrants to the United States who have been separated from their parents and locked away. About these children – there are thousands – we know far less, and our government has worked to keep it this way.
Of course, the Thai boys are trapped because of a tragic natural disaster, while the tragedy facing the separated immigrant kids is man-made.
The Trump administration purposely ripped children from their parents’ arms in an effort to discourage immigration and to encourage immigrants to return home without claiming asylum status.
After a massive public backlash, the administration is reportedly working to reunite kids and parents, but the whole separation policy was slapdash and sloppy from the get-go – records weren’t properly kept, and immigrants saw their children taken away from them by US employees displaying less care than if they were confiscating someone’s wallets. Nearly 3,000 children remain in government custody, many of them very small: an estimated 100 are under the age of 5.
The record-keeping is so bad, and the process of reuniting families so chaotic, that the administration is administering DNA tests to figure out who is related to whom. That’s troubling in and of itself: But there’s no telling how that DNA might be used – it could very well be stored to track children and their parents. And minors will be tested without parental consent (because, of course, the administration took the children from their parents).
These kids need rescue – not by do-gooders simply providing the basics, but by all of us. We need to demand that they are reunited and that the administration pays a serious penalty for such an egregious abuse.
Like the Thai boys, these children are scared and trapped. Unlike the Thai boys, who are in the grips of an unimaginable natural catastrophe, cornered on a rock ledge by rising floodwaters, the immigrant children in the United States are imprisoned on purpose, because of xenophobia, and a bigotry so dehumanizing that our leaders decided it was acceptable to steal children from their parents and caregivers.
The two circumstances are not the same – the Thai children face hypoxia and death, and are trapped in a cave that could stay flooded till October – but the world is pulling for them and mobilizing from every corner of the earth to help. But the fear and trauma both groups of kids face – alone, and not knowing when or whether they will again see their loved ones – certainly overlap.
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As we continue to watch the rescue attempts of the Thai children and hope for their safe recovery, we shouldn’t lose sight of the kids in America, too, who are similarly trapped in circumstances not of their own making. And our rage should stay red-hot at the Trump administration for launching an incredibly cruel policy that, unlike a natural disaster, hurts children on purpose.