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The way we are treating the migrant children in Homestead is a stain on our souls | Opinion

Migrant children are escorted throughout the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children during Good Friday in Homestead on April 19, 2019.
Migrant children are escorted throughout the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children during Good Friday in Homestead on April 19, 2019. mocner@miamiherald.com

When a group of lawyers were finally allowed to enter the Homestead detention center for unaccompanied immigrant minors, their report revealed what caring and compassionate people already knew: Migrant children there are living under the most inhumane conditions.

In fact, according to a Miami Herald story, Dr. Marsha R. Griffin, a professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and one of the persons allowed to visit the facility, wrote in a statement:

“We are not providing safe haven. Instead, we are participating in child abuse and neglect.”

Griffin’s words do not surprise me. Since the press reported that children were being separated from their parents and guardians and placed in prison-like institutions, I and many others have lamented over the plight of these children.

Nancy Smith, a longtime reader and friend, wrote about the situation in an email to me:

“Unfortunately, the moral compass of the nation that moved to action by the fire hoses and police dogs attacking peaceful protestors of the 1960s has not been touched by children in cages, separated from parents and sleeping on the ground in filthy disease-ridden facilities paid for by U.S. taxpayers, and enriching private contractors by policies created by the current president,” Smith said.

“My outrage … is multiplied by the contractors who are making millions, often with no-bid contracts. That those in charge will not allow concerned congressional reps, nor the press, to see what is really going on in these facilities speaks volumes. What are they hiding?... What will it take for our nation to stand up and restore some sense of decency and morality in our fiber?”

As I read Smith’s email, I felt her anger, which only grew when the Trump administration announced Wednesday that it would dramatically cut aid to detention centers that house migrant children who arrive in the United States unaccompanied by their parents.

This means that innocent children, already suffering unimaginable pain and heartbreak, will be deprived of the simple things that many of our own children take for granted. There will be no education for them, no games to play at recess time. In fact, no recreation time at all.

In a Herald interview, an angry Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade County Schools superintendent, asked, “What’s next? Reduce food, water and air? I am hurt. I am angry.”

So, the detained migrant children will be clothed, fed and given a place to sleep. Nothing more. They won’t even be allowed to have a pick-up game of basketball or soccer. In fact, they will be confined to their rooms. There will be no schooling for these children. Only more suffering.

I thought we had stooped to a new low when I learned the Homestead facility doesn’t have to be inspected by state or local authorities. With children herded into crowded rooms, they are sure to endure some unsanitary conditions. In fact, five migrant children being held by the U.S. government have died since December.

We must act now, to right the wrongs done to these children. If we don’t, we will have a new generation of mentally ill adults on our hands -- adults who are sick because of what we did to them when they were children.

As Smith put it, “... The damage being done mentally and physically to this generation of immigrants is immeasurable and irreversible… They are all in an immoral prison, doing great harm to the fabric of the nation.”

People allowed to visit the shelter have already seen evidence of mental distress -- youngsters cutting themselves because of their despair and the lack of affection from their parents or friends.

As a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, I would love to cuddle and rock a baby who is missing the loving arms of his mother. I want to give out warm hugs, and to let the children know they are not thrown away and forgotten.

There are many others who would join me in this venture. But we are not allowed to do such a thing. So, we are left to wonder about the babies who were taken from their mothers’ arms - some of whom weren’t even weaned yet.

Children need more than food and a place to sleep. They need to be nurtured and loved. They need to run and play and laugh. They need to be educated.

It breaks my heart to know that when the youngsters are having a hard time coping, they aren’t allowed to comfort one another with a hug. Hugging is against the rules.

And it hurts, too, that if a child’s birthday falls on a weekday, there will be no birthday greeting from the parents via the telephone. The only time children are allowed to speak to their parents is on Saturday.

Sometimes it seems like we, as a nation, have digressed to the World War II-era, when Japanese-American citizens were detained in prison-like camps. Many of the detainees were born in America and loved this country. Yet, because of mostly unfounded fear, honest law-abiding citizens who just happened to look a certain way were thrown into war camps.

Today, many Americans regret that dark time in our nation’s history. One day, we will look back on how we have treated these innocent children and we will be ashamed. Again.

Marilyn Holifield honored

Neighbors in Religion salutes Marilyn Holifield, who recently was honored with the Judge David W. Dyer Professionalism Award by the Dade County Bar Association. It is the Bar Association’s highest award.

Holifield is a partner with Holland & Knight, and practices in the general litigation area, mainly representing corporate clients.

She has dedicated much of her life to social justice. She worked for the NAACP Legal Department before joining Holland & Knight, a firm founded by Chesterfield Smith. She made partner in 1986, becoming one of the firm’s first minority partners and its first black woman partner.

Holifield serves on the boards at the University of Miami and Swarthmore College.

“Marilyn is an outstanding lawyer, a model of civility and a mentor to many successful lawyers,” said Steven Sonberg, managing partner of Holland & Knight. “This honor is a wonderful tribute to everything she has accomplished in her life and career.”

Trinity deacon to be ordained

Warm congratulations to the Rev. Dr. Christopher Jones, a deacon at Trinity Cathedral, who will be ordained a priest on June 29 in his home diocese of the Church of the Redeemer in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

More news from Trinity: The church’s Book Group will resume Sunday, June 9, right after the 10 a.m. worship service in the community room. The group, lead by Michael Martin, will continue its study of Rowan Williams’ series on teaching with his book, “Being Human: Bodies, minds, Persons,” which is available through Amazon and other book sellers.

The book group will also meet June 23 and June 30, at the same time and place. Everyone is welcome to the discussion sessions.

Also, the Oneblood Mobile will be at Trinity Cathedral from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday in the church parking lot. All blood types are needed. By donating blood, you may be giving the gift of life to someone.

Shavuot celebration

The holiday of Shavuot will be celebrated from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday at Temple Menorah, 620 75th St, in Miami Beach.

Sponsored by the Association for Jewish Special Education, the program will include refreshments, a light lunch, music and games. Gifts will be given to those who arrive on time. Call 305-205-3846 or 954-442-9642 to RSVP or for more information.

Free men’s health screenings

A Men’s Health Initiative, where your favorite dad, brother or granddad will be able to get screened for high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and other health issues, will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., June 15 at Mt. Hermon AME Church of Miami Gardens, 17500 NW 25th Ave.

The event is being sponsored by the church’s Sons of Allen organization and its Health and Wellness Ministry. The community is invited and it’s free. For information, call Stanley Lewis at 305-780-8069.

Father’s Day celebration

Universal Truth Center for Better Living, 21310 NW 37th Ave. in Miami Gardens, invites all fathers and father figures to the annual Father’s Day event from 1 to 3 p.m. June 15.

Fathers will be honored with food and entertainment. If you go, please RSVP to Karla Mills at 305-624-4991.

The church will also honor fathers during the Father’s Day service on June 16, which is from 9:50 to 11:30 a.m.

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