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Ask your father, President Donald J Trump, to listen to...


Dear Ivanka letter

Ask your father, President Donald J Trump, to listen to the better angels

A Protester holds a sign outside the office of the Massachusetts Speaker of the House, Robert Alfred DeLeo, inside the State House in Boston, Massachusetts, USA 20 June 2018. Protesters were calling for an end to the administration's policy of separating children from their detained parents after crossing the border into the United States. EPA-EFE/CJ GUNTHER

Late Wednesday afternoon Washington time, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that ended its appalling policy of childhood incarceration, in the wake of a growing national and international uproar over the spinoff from his administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that captured would-be immigrants from Central America.

This new turn of the policy wheel would, according to first reports in “The Washington Post” “keep families together in federal custody while awaiting prosecution for illegal border crossings, potentially violating a 1997 court settlement limiting the duration of child detentions.

‘So we’re going to have strong, very strong borders, but we’re going to keep the families together,’ Trump said as he signed the order in the Oval Office. ‘I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.’ “

The president said that going forward, instead, whole families would be held together and that ” ‘We will be going through Congress. We’re working on a much more comprehensive bill,’ said Trump, who was flanked by Vice President Pence and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. ‘What we have done today is we are keeping families together.’ ”

Nevertheless, this new decision may not still the uproar as it means children may still be held in custody for months on end while individual family pleas for entry into the US are adjudicated. And that would now put his policy in violation of prior court decisions that the children of would-be entrants cannot be held in lockup for more than three consecutive days.

With this presumed 180 degree change in policy by a beleaguered Trump administration over it immigration policies, there is still room to appeal to the First Daughter to weigh in on immigration issues, thus our letter below:

Dear Ivanka:

I am sure you recall our last open letter to you of a few months ago. At that time I urged you to use your considerable influence with your father to help bring to an end the terrible killing sprees in the nation’s schools and other places that flow from the plague of firearms so freely available in America today. Sadly, while the guns are still there, there is still a chance to do something about it before even more of the nation’s children must perish because of the toxic mix of guns and schools. 

However, today I want to address yet another pressing issue. Now there is the sorry spectacle – being seen around the world – of small children being wrested from their parents’ arms and placed in pens inside vacant warehouses after they have crossed the American-Mexican border in the company of parents pleading for asylum in America. To an outside observer, those enclosures bear a rather dreadful similarity to dog kennels. I understand you may even have discussed some of those images with your father, if reporting on international news channels is to believed.

This time around I do not want to debate the virtues or flaws of admitting anyone who reaches America’s borders or gateway cities. Nevertheless, I am sure you can recall that in common with your parents and your husband’s family – in fact, like everyone in America, save for Native Americans, we all descend from people who fled poverty or the horrors of tyranny, war, famine, and political, religious and racial oppression elsewhere before we embarked on our individual, perilous journeys.

Yes, it is also true the forebears of today’s African Americans first arrived in our nation to be forced into a life of enforced servitude until a war was fought to end that crime. Nevertheless, perhaps we can discuss what it means to be “American” in our own time in another letter, in the future.

But let us move on to today’s pressing topic. Millions of Americans have been seeing on television and social media extraordinary scenes from those holding facilities near the country’s southern border – and most especially the moments when small, terrified children are being physically separated from their families. As a parent, I am sure you have also been touched by the pain in evidence from these events, and the last thing any of us would want to see would be if one of our own loved ones were put through such anguish.

Of course our nation’s government has the right – and the responsibility – to protect the country’s borders. That should go without saying. But must that responsibility also go hand-in-hand with this kind of shocking behaviour on the part of the nation’s law enforcement agencies? From the vantage point of our present day, looking back at history, all of us would immediately, forcefully, and rightly condemn the forcible separation of young children from their enslaved parents during the two hundred years of slavery; by Nazi stormtroopers who separated parents to serve as slave labour while their small children were often condemned to death deliberately or from neglect; or the forcible dispatch of Native American or Australian aboriginal children to government boarding schools distant from their families and where they were forbidden access to their home cultures. 

But the government in which you now serve as a senior presidential adviser with a special interest and responsibility for the family and children now gives you a special responsibility (and an opportunity) to speak on the issues of the day – especially when they are firmly on your turf.

While no one realistically expects you will echo the words of former first lady Laura Bush, let alone the still more vigorous public condemnations now coming from religious leaders and members of Congress, along with the strong denunciations from others from around the world, this is your moment to be brave. Your stepmother took a brave step in her own social media message about this children’s crisis, but that was a personal statement. Yes, your father, the president, is a proud man, but the strong should be strong enough to know when it is to change their course when it is for the best.

You have an institutional responsibility to embrace the cause of keeping families together, even if they are waiting to plead their case to be admitted to the United States as refugees fleeing terror and lawlessness in their native lands. These families, after all, really have very little else left besides their familial bonds, no matter how fragile these have become by now.

Once again, as I did previously, in trying to frame these comments, I consulted with a religious adviser, a rabbi who has lived abroad from America, and who understands the stresses of emigration, departure and loss. He reminded me of the Biblical story of Ruth, a woman of an alien nation who was eventually embraced by Israel and who thereby serves as an example of how one should treat the stranger among us. Moreover, he also noted the familiar parable of Solomon, the two rival women claiming a baby and the king’s manner of protecting the welfare of the child. And, of course, he called my attention to all those familiar admonitions in religious literature that call upon adults to exercise their duty to protect the helpless and the  children. These religious ideals have real lessons for policy makers.

But finally I want to convey to you just how horrific the image of a crying two-year old, surrounded by large men armed with guns, just before that child is about to be consigned to a wire pen has been from the perspective of the foreigners I live with now – and among whom I have worked over many years, in countries around the world. All of America’s promise is being sadly traduced and called a fabric of lies by many of the very people who used to look upon America and its ideals as a light among the nations.

The impulse behind Emma Lazarus’ famous poem at the Statue of Liberty that reads in part “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” is now being labelled as just so much nonsense or prevarication by many.

The caging of those small children is profoundly embarrassing to me, but I have no ability or power to alter these circumstances. You do. Go speak with the president, your boss, your father, and ask him to listen to the better angels of our national nature and rescind this dreadful policy, even as he works with the Congress to reform the nation’s immigration laws. But the incarceration of children must have no place in all this. DM


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