Women and Children First


Remember the movie The Unsinkable Molly Brown? Just the other day I was thinking about that scene on the Titanic’s lifeboat where Debbie Reynolds, who plays the colorful Molly Brown, gives up her fur coat and then her dress to keep those women and children from freezing. Back in the days of the Titanic, when lives were threatened, putting women and children on lifeboats first was an “unwritten law.”

It was the humane thing to do.

Guess that image came to mind because since I’ve been home, I can’t forget them. I mean the women, especially the mothers, and children I met  and heard about in Texas. And there’s something else I can’t forget. The inhumane treatment many of them experienced, either in crossing the border or after they arrived.

Like the Guatemalan woman who was kidnapped in Mexico, where she was abused and raped for months until she managed to escape. By the time she made it to San Diego she was 8 months pregnant. After ICE processed her information, an agent shackled her — chains around her wrists and ankles — and put her on a plane to El Paso. The chains encircling her ankles were so tight, they broke the skin. By the time she got off the plane, she was bleeding and in pain. The ICE agent in El Paso asked her why she hadn’t said anything to the agent on the plane.

“I did tell him it was hurting me,” she said.

I guess the threat that a woman 8-months pregnant posed was too much of a risk to loosen those chains.

And then there are the women and children who are transferred to so-called family detention centers. Texas has two of these privately run facilities, holding thousands of mothers and children, including babies. It’s basically akin to putting them in prison. Some have been incarcerated since last fall.

Sr. Pat, who volunteers at the Dilley detention facility near San Antonio, told me of a woman she’d met who had been there since August! It’s strange how even violent criminals have a right to due process in this country. But not immigrant mothers whose only “crime” is showing up at the border.

Sr. Pat says the children are losing weight. They can’t eat the food the facility serves. There’s a commissary, but if a mom wants to buy her child juice, it costs $4. She says more than one attorney who has come to speak with the women about their case has anonymously added money to their client’s commissary account.

What gets to me the most is the traumatizing affect this environment is having on innocent children. And the fact that we are basically punishing them and their mothers, many of whom have legitimate cases for asylum. This from a country that prides itself on promoting justice and defending human rights.

The New York Times had an excellent editorial on this subject last week. You can find it at http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/05/15/opinion/end-immigration-detention.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=opinion-c-col-left-region%C2%AEion=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region&_r=1&referrer

Thankfully, more people are speaking out against the inhumane practices of family detention centers. Women and children should not be treated this way. Certainly not by one of the wealthiest nations in the world.

Like Molly Brown, we can be wealthy, and kind and compassionate, too. There’s room in our lifeboat for these women and children.

mock up detention
mock up detention “room” at Voice of the Voiceless fundraiser