September 18, 2019

Spilling Ink Instead of Spilling Tears

Photo from Wikipedia.

My job entails juggling multiple tasks, including editing many of the stories you see in this paper. I also proofread every page before we go to press, and last week I was struck by the fact that we had six separate stories about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s comments referring to migrant detention centers on the southern border as “concentration camps.”

Those six stories filled 10 pages of our 52-page paper, and that doesn’t include the letters or the dozens of op-ed submissions that we didn’t print. As I pored over each of these articles, I was rattled by how easily we had become bogged down in semantics. 

I could not shake the sensation that we were missing the forest for the trees. Trees turned into newspaper print. And yet, the amount of ink spilled on these pages last week, doesn’t come close to the tears that have been spilled by those children on the border who have been separated from their parents. 

Whether AOC is a friend or foe of the Jews is for each of us to draw our own conclusion. But whether by default or design, she has successfully managed to shift the conversation away from the real issue at hand — children being separated from their parents — and pitted us against one another in a war of words. 

And so, we find ourselves here: standing on opposite sides of a deep semantic cavern. For every Holocaust survivor who states it is abhorrent to compare what is happening on the southern border to a concentration camp, there is another survivor who is equally as passionate in stating this is absolutely the correct term. So who is right? 

It doesn’t matter. What matters, as Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt so eloquently stated on Twitter is: 

Debating if separation of children is akin to the Holocaust, allows those who are forcibly separating parents & children off the hook. Be horrified by the policy. Don’t be engaged in a useless debate about inaccurate, false, & deceptive comparisons.

AOC has managed to shift the conversation away from the real issue at hand — children being separated from their parents.

What matters is that these children are being separated from their parents.

What matters is that six migrant children have died in U.S. custody since September. Most died inside (fill in the blank — crowded border patrol facilities/detention areas). It doesn’t matter what you call these places. What matters is that we remember these children. They were:

Darlyn Cristabel Cordova-Valle, age 10; Jakelin Caal Maquín, age 7; Felipe Gomez Alonzo, age 8; Juan de León Gutiérrez, age 16; Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vásquez, age 2 1/2; Carlos Hernandez Vásquez, age 16.

What matters is that on June 25 the acting head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, John Sanders, announced his resignation, “amid growing outcry over reports that more than 300 children were held in a remote Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, with insufficient food and water, and were left to try to care for one another,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

What matters is that Sarah Fabian, a Justice Department lawyer, stood before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on June 21 and had the gall to argue that children in detention did not require soap or toothbrushes and that sleeping on concrete floors in crowded cells met the “safe and sanitary requirements” the government must provide. 

So as the people who are supposed to be a light unto the nations, are we going fight for these children who cannot fight for themselves? Please don’t stand in a circular firing squad arguing whose fault it is that these children are in these horrific conditions or why this is happening. The only thing that matters is that it is happening. 

Right here. Right now. 

Do you want to argue semantics or do you want to help these children? Help them reunite with their families; help them seek asylum; help them get toothbrushes and a warm bed to sleep in. If you don’t know where to start, head over to HIAS and look at the myriad ways you can help. 

We already know your Jewish response to AOC. What’s your Jewish response to children living in horrendous conditions, separated from their parents at the border?

Kelly Hartog is the Jewish Journal’s managing editor