I was zipping down the Merritt Parkway, nighttime summer air blowing through the windows, the radio tuned to an 80s station. My 12-year-old daughter cranked up Kim Carnes. All the boys think she’s a spy. She’s got Bette Davis eyes.
We were on our way home from a father-daughter night in Ridgefield. A conversation-filled farm-to-table dinner at Bailey’s Backyard. Then it was off to the library to give a speech on Tiger Woods and sign books. “You did a great job, dad,” Clara Belle said afterward. That lit me up like book critic Dwight Garner calling Tiger’s bio “as sleek as a Christopher Nolan movie” in the Times. We capped off the night at Deborah Ann’s Sweet Shop on Main Street, sugar cones teeming with old fashioned homemade ice cream.
We were so happy. Then I got to thinking about all of those frightened children being separated from their parents, crying themselves to sleep in tents at the U.S. border. Hundreds and hundreds. As young as two. I don’t know about you, but I am having trouble enjoying this summer knowing what’s going on.
I’m with Laura Bush. She called the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy “cruel” and “immoral.” Everyone agrees.
Well, not everyone. Attorney General Jeff Sessions used the Bible to justify it. “Having children does not give you immunity from arrest and prosecution,” he said. “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government. Because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”
Yes, he really said that. Worse, we shrug.
Thankfully, Cardinal Timothy Dolan took issue with the AG’s distorted justification for separating children from parents at the border. “That’s just unjust,” Dolan said. “That’s un-biblical. That’s un-American. There could be no biblical passage that would justify that.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement this week condemning family separation. My church also issued a thoughtful statement on immigration. It read, in part: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is concerned that any state legislation that only contains enforcement provisions is likely to fall short of the high moral standard of treating each other as children of God.”
I spent a few days last week with David Crosby. We talked a lot about immigration and children. The other night, during his show at Tanglewood, he told the audience how much he loves America. He said that one of his favorite patriotic symbols is the Statue of Liberty. Then he started quoting the words inscribed inside the pedestal of Lady Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, your ….” his voice trailed off. “Well, maybe not anymore.”
The audience was dead quiet. A woman in front of me wiped away a tear. Then David sang “America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee).” Moments later he and his band brought the crowd to its feet with “Ohio,” the protest song Neil Young wrote in response to the Kent State shootings in 1970.
Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?
It’s patriotic to speak out against government action that is un-American.
Instead of listening to loudmouths like Laura Ingraham (she compared the child detention conditions to “summer camps”) and Ann Coulter (she said that President Trump should not fall for “these child actors weeping and crying”), we should give voice to women like Mary Oliver.
Oliver is a Pulitzer Prize winning poet who deftly uses animals and nature to teach us about us. Her poem “Ropes” is my favorite. It begins this way: “In the old days, dogs in our town roamed freely. But the old ways changed.”
The poem is about a puppy named Sammy that shows up at a family’s home with a chewed-through rope hanging from his collar. Day after day Sammy comes back, rope dangling. Sammy’s owner abandoned him, so the family took him in. Here’s the rest of the poem:
As Sammy grew older he began to roam around town, and as a result, began to be caught by the dog officer. Eventually, of course, we were summoned to court, which, we learned quickly, was not a place in which to argue. We were told to build a fence. Which we did.
But it turned out that Sammy could not only chew threw ropes, he could also climb fences. So his roaming continued.
But except for the dog officer, Sammy never got into trouble; he made friends. He wouldn’t fight with other dogs, he just seemed to stay awhile in someone’s yard and, if possible, to say hello to the owners. People began to call us to come and get him before the dog officer saw him. Some took him into their houses to hide him from the law. Once a woman on the other end of town called; when I got there she said, “Can you wait just a few minutes? I’m making him some scrambled eggs.”
I could tell many more stories about Sammy, they’re endless. But I’ll just tell you the unexpected, joyful conclusion. The dog officer resigned! And the next officer was a different sort; he too remembered and missed the old days. So when he found Sammy he would simply call him into his truck and drive him home. In this way, he lived a long and happy life, with many friends.
This is Sammy’s story. But I also think there are one or two poems in it somewhere. Maybe it’s what life was like in this dear town years ago, and how a lot of us miss it.
Or maybe it’s about the wonderful things that may happen if you break the ropes that are holding you.
Now, let’s go back to the photograph at the top of this post. It was taken by Jim Moore while he was following Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley. For context, it’s important to look at the other two photographs he took of the 2-year old girl and her mother.
The first one shows the mother breastfeeding her child just after crossing the border in the middle of the night. They had walked all the way from Honduras.
The second one shows the mother being searched while the child cries.
“As a father of two daughters and a very young son who’s a toddler, this coverage felt especially personal to me,” Moore said. "I think any parent seeing a child suffer through such an event would be touched.”
He added: “I honestly don’t know what happened to them, but I think that we will find out. I’m actively trying to find out. The stated Trump policy is that children should not be allowed to be with parents during the asylum-seeking process.”
By the Trump administration’s own admission, over 2,000 children were separated from their parents at the U.S. border since mid-April. Today the White House said the president was preparing an executive order that would end his administration’s policy of separating families who are detained after crossing the border.