A project of the Center for Community Change

This could never happen in America… could it?

by Gabe Gonzalez

I read the most horrible story the other day.

The school in Detroit surrounded by ICE agents last week

It took place in one of those countries currently going through upheaval. Agents of the government followed parents as they took their children to school. As parents left the school, the agents approached them, detained them, and in full view of the school, two of the parents were hustled away in unmarked vans.

Inside, other parents were terrified to leave, fearing they would share the same fate. Stuck in the lobby, they made frantic cell phone calls, and peering out the windows, worried for those unlucky enough to be outside. All day long the school received calls, parents asking anxiously if it was safe to retrieve their children. Finally, after hours of this terror, the agents were convinced to leave, all the while insisting they had every right to be there and do as they pleased.

Can you imagine this? Imagine the anguish those parents must have felt, torn between protecting their children and protecting themselves from persecution. Can you imagine the toll, the pain inflicted? Can you imagine your own children, yourself in that situation, and what you would do or hope to do?

I know when I read stories like these, I think of my own children, and thank God we live in a country where this could never happen. I thank God we live in America.

Ahh, but here is the most horrible part of all. You see, it was this country. It was America.

Everything I described happened last week in Detroit. ICE was the agency, and the Hope of Detroit Academy the school. The crime of the parents was not having legal documents, and for that two of them were made to disappear.

I can already hear the howls from those who hate. “They were illegals.” “Send them all home.” “They broke the law.”  These and many other comments are sure to flow into whatever outlet dares print stories about this terror or opinions like mine.

I don’t write this for them, those who hate. And I don’t write this for the undocumented. I know too well  that a few printed words cannot assuage their suffering or lessen their burden.

I write this for the rest of us. For the vast majority of Americans who know instinctively that this is wrong. Who know that actions like these are un-American, that treating other human beings like this is inhumane.

How long can we let this go on? How long can we as a nation turn a blind eye to what ICE is doing? This is only the latest, not the least, of the outrages thrust upon those who cannot defend themselves.

Right now there are families, including small children, in prisons, awaiting deportation. Right now there are corporations lining up to get contracts to pen those families in behind concrete and bars. Right now, the person who served you dinner or made your hotel bed or cared for your grandfather, right now they are scared. Right now they look at their children and ask themselves, “How much more? How much longer?”

Yeats wrote, ‘Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart.” Perhaps that is what happened to us. Perhaps caught between the ideals of our forefathers and the ugly politics of Washington, we have ceased to see the people, feel the torment. Perhaps too much waiting and too much hate has made a stone of our hearts.

I hope to God that isn’t true. I hope compassion and a belief in human dignity still have a place in our society, in us as a people. I hope they still reside in those of you who read these words.

If so, please help. Do this small thing. Call this number, 202-282-8000. It’s for Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. She can stop this. Ask her to stop terrorizing parents and let children attend schools free from fear. Ask her to take families out of prisons and let their children play on the grass.  If we all do this one thing and get others to do it to, maybe she will see the light and end this pain. Then, maybe the stories we hear in the future will be different. Maybe they will be of hope, and freedom.  And maybe, when we do hear of terror and injustice, we can hold our heads high and say:

“Thank God I live in a place where that could never happen. Thank God I live in America.”

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