El Paso, TX, is far from a lot of things. The border town of Tornillo is that much farther.
A very small town gives way to fields, dirt, and scrub brush, then a few government buildings at the border. Far in the distance, the silhouette of the mountains looms.
On Sunday, hundreds of us walk down the road to gather under a hot, bright sky while an unexpected and welcome breeze keeps the flags rippling and coats us each in a layer of dust I can still feel on my red-tinged skin hours later.
It is one week since the cries of children separated from their parents at the border tore through our hearts and settled into our national conscience. It is just four days since President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending the separation — but not the detention — of children. Children belong with their families, yes, but they also belong in safe and healthy environments, not in cages. No one could say how the 2,500 children locked in makeshift holding camps would be located and reunited with their parents.
As we stand outside a detention facility that went from holding 93 children taken from their asylum-seeking parents to 320, I listen to amazing leaders — from the iconic and still vibrant Dolores Huerta to the firebrand president of Voto Latino, Maria Teresa Kumar. I’m lifted by the presence of young Dreamers and grizzled veterans, and inspired by a generation of Latino public servants, along with a generation running to join them in office. Even a plane full of celebrities had heard the call and made their way to this dusty, morally compromised corner of America to lend their platforms and voices, calling attention to the horror on the border.
But for all the speeches and the passion of the people gathered, I am distracted by the harsh and unforgiving landscape that stretches in every direction around us.
As a longtime visitor to nearby New Mexico, I have often found beauty in that sparse and seemingly endless vista. But on this day, my awe is not for the landscape. It is for the courage and determination of the parents who have risked everything — left everything and everyone — to cross miles and miles of it, for weeks upon weeks. It is for the love and hope of people who have escaped the violence, corruption, and crime of their home countries, and who have sought a better life for themselves and their children.
What kind of country would say we do not want brave and courageous people like them to join our ranks? What country doesn't need the ingenuity and smarts it would take to figure out how to travel hundreds of miles, to protect, to feed, to clothe, to survive? What country doesn’t want mothers and fathers who love their children so much they would risk their lives?
A country can certainly have processes for joining its ranks as visitors or citizens, but our processes today are based on hatred and cruelty, not facts and justice.
These asylum seekers are the true family values coalition.
I stand next to the detention center with the recognition that, as a privileged white American citizen, I wouldn't have the beginning of an idea how to do what these parents have done. Nor, do I think, the guts. I think of my daughter, who’s recently back from trekking in Indonesia — a brave step for her, but one swaddled in itineraries, vaccinations, and REI gear. I think back to that terrifying and panicked moment every parent remembers of losing sight of their child in a store or at a fair. I try to imagine what it would take to navigate a hate-filled maze of Homeland Security bureaucracy in a different language, while wondering and worrying about your stolen children every moment of the day. Day after day. And I cry.
A country can certainly have processes for joining its ranks as visitors or citizens, but our processes today are based on hatred and cruelty, not facts and justice. Processes that result in parents in shackles, toddlers in tears, and children in a slightly-less-terrible version of jail diminish all of our humanity and stab into the heart of what our democracy hasn't always delivered, but what it has always claimed to believe.
For a country that calls itself the land of the free, we are so quick to imprison people. While we proclaim that we are home of the brave, we punish and reject courageous people hungering to contribute to this great experiment.
When we as a country refuse to be part of a strong global economy that could give parents around the world — including parents in our hard-hit industrial and rural areas — hope for their children's future; when our president praises dictators who turn their backs on progress for all and use force and fortune for themselves, we cannot be surprised when people around the world yearn for a place to breathe free.
The soul has no borders, and clearly, the love of parents doesn’t either.
Dawn Laguens is the Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood. Views expressed here are her own.