Many reports in the last several weeks have brought to light instances of inhumane treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers in our country. National outcry about families being torn apart and children kept in jails, tents, and cages at our southern border led to the end of Trump’s “Zero Tolerance” policy. A report from the Associated Press highlighted allegations of abuse at a facility in Staunton, Va.
In 1979, my parents and I were refugees, escaping from Vietnam on a rickety boat for several days. My mother remembers that on the night we left our homeland, there were no stars in the sky; it was so dark that she could not tell where the ocean ended and the sky began. As we left the shores into this watery abyss, she wondered how we would survive.
My parents’ decision to leave their family and country was heart wrenching for them. Yet, the unknown of the dangerous, open sea was a preferable alternative to the oppressive regime at home. My family’s journey in search of hope, opportunity, and freedom is similar to ones taken by others before and after us.
Today, there are 65 million displaced people worldwide. Whether on the Mediterranean Sea or at our southern border, people, desperate for a better life for themselves and their children, are risking their lives.
I am outraged by the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. This inhumane approach is tearing apart families seeking refuge at our southern border, leaving parents frantically searching for their children and children alone and terrified. We must not separate families, and we must not rest until separated families are reunited.
We must not indefinitely detain people seeking refuge in jails, tents, or cages. In 1998, I taught ESL to adult asylum seekers at Elizabeth Detention Center in N.J. These jails are no place for adults fleeing terror or persecution let alone children or families.
This week, Virginia demonstrated its commitment to compassion and justice. Governor Northam’s decisive decision to recall Virginia National Guard members who had been deployed to the southwest border sent a clear message: Virginia will not participate in activities that enable family separation.
I also applaud the Governor’s swift leadership to investigate reports of abuse of immigrant children held by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement at a juvenile detention facility in Staunton, Va. We need to ensure the safety of every person — adult or child, native-born or immigrant — held in custody in Virginia.
Poignantly, on World Refugee Day, the rising tide of public demand for the humane treatment of families seeking refuge from persecution brought an end to the “Zero Tolerance” policy. We must recommit ourselves to being steadfast in our compassion for and dedication to assisting those fleeing violence, terror, and oppression. For generations, the United States has been a beacon of hope for many, and immigrants and refugees have strengthened the social, economic, and cultural fabric of our country since its founding. Now more than ever, we must continue to demand moral clarity and leadership from our political leaders.
Kathy KL Tran represents the 42nd District in the Virginia House of Delegates.