Saturday, June 23, 2018
America’s Gulag for Children
The term, Gulag, made famous by Russian novelist Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s novel, The Gulag Archipelago, refers to the Soviet forced labor camp system created under Vladimir Lenin.
These camps housed hundreds of thousands of prisoners— petty criminals, political dissidents, and even Russian soldiers who surrendered to allied forces during WWII. Their numbers reached their peak during the Stalinist era in Russia, from the 1930s to the 1950s.
Now, our own country, once known for egalitarianism and freedom, holds some 20,000 immigrant children in cages, warehouses, old Walmart stores, or barracks hastily constructed by federal agencies.
Who would’ve imagined a Gulag, specifically for children, in the US?
You’ve likely heard the reasons behind them by now, all of which are utterly and completely false.
Consider this example:
Imagine you and your spouse, enjoying the bounty of three young children, get caught cooking methamphetamine in your Los Angeles apartment. You would be arrested and jailed.
If you have close relatives, your children will be placed in their care. If not, then the County’s Department of Public Social Services would place them in foster care. Unlike these migrant children in American Gulags, though, your whereabouts would be tracked, as would your children.
Even if you two are imprisoned for months or years, your reunification with your children would almost certainly occur after you served out your sentence.
Comparing such situations to what’s happening at our southern borders is pure propaganda.
Because the context is completely different.
While a tiny percentage of those families crossing the border have criminal intent, most flee awful conditions in their home countries. El Salvador, for example, has an absolute epidemic of gang violence arising from their ruined economy. Other countries suffer extreme violence from narco-traffickers, severe poverty, or repressive, authoritarian governments from which anyone with half-a-brain tries to escape.
A legal process exists for seeking asylum in the US in these situations. However, the bureaucracy involved is labyrinthine. Franz Kafka, if reading about it from his grave, would be turning over and over and over.
The problem of helping displaced persons as a result of war, authoritarian leaders, famine, or other forms of violence has reached epic proportions. In just the first half of this year, more than 90,000 Central American families have been apprehended in the southwest United States.
By the end of 2015, the number of displaced persons internationally exceeded that of the period just after WWII, and is now the largest in recorded history.
According to the report of the United Nations Refugee Agency released last week, some 68.5 million people have now become displaced, pouring out of places as far-flung as Syria, Myanmar, Congo and Venezuela, not to mention closer neighbors like El Salvador and Guatemala.
These people need help.
Of course, they cannot all be admitted to our country. We lack the resources to help all of them. But help they desperately need. If the world functioned more like a loving family, more assistance would go to those countries ruined by poor economic conditions, plagued by gang violence, or destroyed by war.
Many other possible remedies exist.
Meanwhile, these many thousands of afflicted individuals who attempt to enter the US bear no semblance to the two fictional Los Angeles meth cookers. Unlike their likely fate, here is what happens to these families desperately trying to get into the US:
They are arrested for illegal entry or criminal trespass. Because of Trump’s recent “no tolerance” policy, and as an illegitimate tool to force legislators to deal with the legitimate problem, the adults are separated from the minors. The minors are placed in these newly-sprouted Gulags; the adults are tried, almost always deported, and their relationships with their children are severed—permanently.
Because their parents lack the resources to achieve reunification.
In El Salvador, for example, the median income is $300 per month. The dislocated parents’ capacity for locating their children, traveling back to the US to find them, and returning to their home countries is extremely limited. They can’t afford attorneys; they can’t afford travel; they often lack the means to even locate their children.
Meanwhile, their children, who will be viewed by federal officials as abandoned by their parents, will quickly be permanently placed in foster homes.
The psychological effects of such forced-separations are devastating.
Psychoanalysis has a particularly poor reputation for its scientific legitimacy except in one realm:
A simple Google search will provide you with more information than you’d even want about this empirically-based line of research. Suffice to say that so-called insecure attachments create real problems for children that extend well beyond one lifespan.
The trauma of abrupt separation, and the resultant interpersonal, behavioral, and emotional difficulties, cross generations. Persons suffering disruptions in attachment typically develop significant psychopathology; their capacities for parenting are similarly affected, resulting in further attachment disruptions. The grief passes from generation to generation. Each separation, then, adversely affects literally thousands of people.
And, of course, the effects on the individual parents and children must not be minimized. The loss, grief, loneliness, and general emotional suffering betrays description through words.
It is worse than terms like horrible, awful, or terrible can signify.
It is literally tragic.
Trump’s use of innocent children as pawns represents the worst possible solution to an international problem.
What a perfect irony that the problem erupts literally weeks after Trump praises Kim Jung Un, the leader of the most repressive country on earth. Many refer to the entire country of 25 million as a prison camp. If an average North Korean is caught, OMG, listening to a western radio or TV station, he or she, as well as three-generations of relatives, will be sent to one of the infamous North Korean Gulags for decades. Most will die in those prisons.
While much of the world’s attention focuses on North Korea’s nuclear capability, up to 130,000 people are believed to be detained in its Gulags, spirited away for arbitrary crimes such as gossiping about the state.
Kim Jong Un, oh yes, what a funny guy.
If ever a time existed to think of the world as a human family, this is it.
Just think on it.
Not only is our current immigration policy creating indescribable suffering in the affected individuals and families, it creates multiple generations of problems.
Further, it erodes our country’s (rapidly diminishing) reputation as a beacon of hope and freedom.
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Alan Karbelnig, PhD, ABPP