The Kids Lose (Again)

No, this The Real World post isn’t about the forthcoming documentary film being produced by Lives in the Balance, The Kids We Lose, though we’re very excited that we’re in the final stages of editing, that the film has already been submitted to several dozen film festivals, and that it should be available for public screenings in October. This The Real World post is about the unconscionable scenario playing out at the US border in which kids are being separated from their parents, the result of the US government’s new zero-tolerance policy in which the Justice Department is prosecuting everyone who crosses the southwest border. This policy shift means that migrants traveling with children or unaccompanied minors end up detained (and charged with a crime) instead of released. The children are not charged, which means they’re detained separately.

Zero tolerance policies made things worse in American public schools; I can’t imagine why we’d expect a different result in this situation. Doctors abide by the Hippocratic oath; shouldn’t the US government?

We see this all the time, unfortunately. We see the emotions aroused by political jockeying cause humans to lose their bearings. We get caught up in and distracted by arguments about who’s right and who’s wrong, by who’s to blame, by biblical justifications, by disputes about what’s true and what’s not. Meanwhile, the ones whose voices most often get lost -- the kids -- SUFFER.

Here’s what’s undeniably true, no matter who’s fault it is, no matter who’s to blame, no matter how long they’re being separated for, no matter whether doing so will serve as a deterrent, no matter what the Bible says, and even if the kids are being treated nicely: the US is segregating young children from their parents when they enter the US illegally (and sometimes legally as well). And, no matter how you spin it, in a country that likes to think of itself as humane, that’s just shameful. A federal judge referred to the practice as “brutal, offensive, and fail(ing) to comport with traditional notions of fair play and decency.” Exactly.

Every once in a while -- as with the tragedy in Parkland, Florida -- the kids do insist upon having their voices heard. Then, as it always does, the news cycle moves on and the “adults” go back to thrashing about and making no progress on important issues like immigration and gun laws.

Because I’ve seen and helped kids and caregivers solve problems collaboratively thousands of times -- often on longstanding, sometimes complex, problems that had once seemed unsolvable -- the current scenario in American national politics is truly odious. And really sad. Trying to solve problems with power as the primary currency is always odious, and also amazingly counterproductive and ineffective. Someone always suffers when power is the primary currency.

There are legitimate concerns on both sides of every problem. Those who want tighter controls on who enters the US have legitimate concerns. Those who want the US to continue to be a place where the tired, poor, and huddled masses can continue to find refuge have legitimate concerns. Those who don’t want to relinquish their gun rights have legitimate concerns. Those who want to make sure that guns don’t wind up in the hands of people who intend to shoot up schools and concerts have legitimate concerns. The current discourse seems primarily focused on dismissing concerns, rather than on finding ways to address those concerns. What a needless waste…of time, of energy, of lives. And the hypocrisy of some of the key players is pretty stunning too.

So, to those kids in Texas who are being yanked away from their parents: I’m truly sorry that the current political realities in the US have contributed to your suffering. I wish it were otherwise. We all suffer when we stop listening to each other’s concerns, can’t find ways to collaborate on solutions, and lose track of our humanity. Some way more than others.

Ross W. Greene, Ph.D.
June 18, 2018