Imagine, if you can, that conditions in your country are so bad that you have to leave everything you know and get the hell out. Obviously, you’re not going to leave your young child behind. But if you do cross into the United States illegally, Attorney General Jeff Sessions says you’re “smuggling children” so “that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”
To make matters worse, this “zero tolerance” policy also applies to people who present themselves at the border seeking asylum. “The argument,” says U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, “is if we deter families from seeking asylum, then they won’t take on this arduous journey … They’re inflicting trauma on children, to influence parents. Who does that? What civilized society does that?”
Well, us. We do that. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has confirmed that more than 650 children were separated from parents at the border over a 12-day period in May. At that rate, there must be thousands of kids as young as 3 or 4 being held in detention centers such as the former Walmart in Brownsville, Texas, which recently refused to allow Merkley to see what’s going on there.
Even during World War II, when we shamefully rounded up Japanese Americans on the West Coast and shipped them off to detention camps, at least we didn’t tear families apart. Why are we doing it now? Oh, right — to terrorize the parents into not coming here and “smuggling children” over the border.
So the Japanese internment offers no precedent for tearing toddlers out of their mothers’ arms and sending them somewhere unknown for reasons unknown — and yet, this whole thing rings a bell. Where have I read about something very similar?
Silly me, I forgot about slavery! That’s it! Even here in Connecticut, where slavery wasn’t completely and finally abolished until 1848, it was standard procedure for slave owners to sell people’s children to other slave owners — simply a property right.
I remember reading, in “A Century of Meriden,” about farmer Joseph Shailer, of Haddam, who in 1750 sold “one negro girl aged about three years,” called Violet, to farmer Benjamin Roys, of Meriden, to be his slave for life, her ownership then to pass on to his heirs or, for that matter, to anyone to whom farmer Roys might later decide to sell her. Farmer Shailer made this transaction “avouching my self to be the proper and sole owner of the said negro girl and have a right to dispose of the said negro girl during the term of her natural life.”
Unfortunately for little Violet, the only document testifying to her existence that has come down to us over the centuries is a bill of sale. But there’s a later entry in the same book: “Dec. 17, 1798 Abner Rice emancipated negro woman Violet.” If that’s little Violet, she would have been 51 by then — past child-bearing age and free at last.
Little Violet was taken from her mother’s arms and sent away. That was under slavery.
Toddlers are again being taken from their mothers’ arms in this country and sent away, 268 years later.
What’s our excuse?
Reach Glenn Richter at email@example.com.