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Being Separated From My Child Nearly Killed Me

My daughter Journi is my best friend. She loves to hear me tell the story of her nickname “Bear,” how when she was born she made a little growl instead of crying.

Many years ago, I was separated from Journi while serving a three-month sentence for driving my wife to work on a suspended license. While I was on the inside, I found out that Journi needed a major operation. She was only four years old, and they wouldn’t let me be there for her.

This experience destroyed me. Worse than my own suffering was how much it hurt her that her daddy couldn’t be at her bedside when she woke up — that I wouldn’t be able to hold her hand in her time of need.

So when I see the forced separation of children at the southern border, or families indefinitely jailed just for seeking protection, I don’t just feel heartbroken. I also feel a deep sense of connection — as a father, and as a human being. I understand what it’s like to want to do everything in your power to keep your child safe from harm, but lack the freedom to hug them when they’re in pain or comfort them when they are scared.

Lives need to come before law, especially when a law is unjust.

The administration’s policy of separating families is torture, and Trump’s executive order to incarcerate families together doesn’t solve the crisis he created at all. Putting Bear in prison with me wouldn’t have been right either. Even worse, the order includes no plan to reunite the up to 2,000 children already ripped from their parents arms.

How did any of our families get to this country? I’m a seventh generation resident of Haywood County, North Carolina, and I still live right where I grew up. But my own ancestors were migrants to the mountains all the same.

Many of the families coming to the U.S. right now are fleeing for their lives. They’re not violent or mooching off the system — they’re working to provide a better life for their children. I’ve worked with some of them. One, a dishwasher from Mexico who went home once a year to visit his grandmother, never once fell behind on his work.

He didn’t take my job. He was working a job that nobody else wanted to support his loved ones.  I see myself in his dedication to his family. I see myself in his humanity.

Immigrants are human beings. Wherever they come from, families have a right to be together, and to raise their children in a safe and secure world. And children don’t belong in jail, even with their parents, under any circumstances.

Jailing immigrants doesn’t make the rest of us safer. It just puts more money in the pockets of the private prison profiteers who make money off mass incarceration. They profit off kids in cages, just like they profited off me.

We need to come together and end the brutal thinking that investing in more jails or harsher punishments for families just like ours is going to make this situation any better. What we deserve, all of us, is a plan that allows people to safely become a part of our country.

We need to have compassion and empathy for the human beings who are suffering in this crisis. They need to be seen as people, nothing more and nothing less. We need to end the cruel, unnecessary, and traumatizing detention of families.

Bottom line: Families belong in communities, not in cages.

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