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What ESL Teachers Know About Family Separation

The shoes. I can still see all those tiny little shoes, piled high into the sky and miles from the children that once molded them. It’s an image that, all these years later, I still cannot remove from my memory.

One of the most dramatic images in Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, is an encasement of assorted children’s shoes. Red ones, scuffed ones, most of them warn. Each one, removed from miniature feet at concentration camps, represents the life of an innocent child. Those shoes are all that remain of the few steps they took in this world. So many shoes placed one on top of another, creating a mountain of hope and despair. They were only children — what could they have possibly done to deserve such a fate?

As a teacher, I’ve always had a soft spot for children, which is probably the reason I’ve continued to work with and advocate for them for the last 16 years. As an ESL teacher, I focus on the immigrant population trying to make their lives better and more comfortable as they adjust to life in America. My already challenging job has become more so with the decisions of our current administration.

Like many, I’m horrified by our country separating children from their parents. It’s true crime in every sense of the word. Legally, as minors, these children have done nothing wrong and therefore should be able to have asylum. Yet our leaders literally ripped infants from their mother’s protection and placed them in cages, while the children’s screams drowned each other out. This is a modern-day concentration camp, and I am horrified once again.

I have never understood what it is in people that makes them think one group is superior to another, that one person has the power to decide the fate of another. But when it comes to children, we are supposed to be the adults; our job is to help them, not hinder them.

It is never easy coming to this country as an immigrant. Many of my students have risked their lives to come here. Yet, despite whatever obstacles they have faced, when they reach my classroom they are sweet and respectful and full of life. I cannot imagine someone detaining them, tearing them away from their families. In my experience, the bond and relationships of families from abroad are so intense and close that the damage of taking their children away for any amount of time would cause irrevocable damage. Each day they are away from their loved ones continues to harm their psyches.

I have had enough of this political pissing contest. It is not about Republican or Democrat, it is about innocent children. They must not be used as pawns any longer.

There’s still time to save these children, and to save our nation. To “make America great again.” I don’t want there to be a museum, one day, of our time during the Trump era. Where rusted silver cages are placed as artifacts to remember the children that were taken innocently. We as a country need to do better.

In Israel, once you exit the museum, as you reflect on the atrocities of the past you are surrounded by one of the most beautiful views in all of Jerusalem. It is there to remind us that life goes on, that there is hope.

I hope that we, as a nation, can come together to free these children. To reunite them with their families and prove to them that there is beauty still in America. We have to show them empathy and remember what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes.

While our administration often quotes the Bible in their rationale for such cruel actions, I want to remind them of what Hillel says in Pirkei Avot 1:14: “If I am not for me, who will be for me? And when I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, then when?”

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