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Est. April 5, 2002
July 19, 2018 - Issue 751

Searching for Lost Children

"In his autobiography, former slave Frederic Douglass
writes that the single greatest fear harbored
by every slave was being separated from their children
or having their children taken from them,
destined for the auction block."

I received an email from a cousin I’ve never met—one I didn’t know existed ’til I heard from her. After brief intros, she wanted to know one thing. She asked, “do you know what plantation your ancestor was sold to?”

That’s been a recurring theme since I began my journey to discover my family tree. Working with has made it easier but the software can’t work miracles. Whenever I dive into my ancestry, I’m reminded how thoroughly my life was impacted by that “peculiar institution”–slavery.

Only a few generations ago, my family and hers were forcibly ripped apart. Children separated from parents, sold off–no mention of where they were going or with whom they’d live. The only thing the family knew for sure was that they were gone.

After the Civil War, many searched. Some searched for the rest of their lives. Most never found each other.

In his autobiography, former slave Frederic Douglass writes that the single greatest fear harbored by every slave was being separated from their children or having their children taken from them, destined for the auction block.

Today, more than 150 years after slavery was abolished, many of the great-great grandchildren of those children are still searching. But this generation has access to technologies few could have imagined even a generation ago.

I’m a member of that generation. DNA testing and have provided a path to discovery, enabling me to connect to blood relatives whose identities I didn’t know. Of course, the connections are only made possible after others also sign up with and submit a DNA test (privacy issues and the profiteering of victims of the slave trade is fodder for another article – not for today).

The impact of slavery and other forms of oppression and exploitation certainly lasts a lifetime, but we don’t know the toll it takes on multiple generations, as is evidenced in my story.

What the Trump administration has done to the children and families seeking refuge in “the land of the free” should have criminal consequences. But as was the case with my family, what Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions and others have done is legal. Sure, some will say (and rightfully so) that Trump’s policy violates the international human rights law that protects immigrants, refugees and especially children. But, that won’t change a thing.

Thousands of children have already been separated from their families. Who knows how many will be reunited. It’s not inconceivable that some parents and children will never see each other again.

As this tragic story has unfolded, thousands protested in the streets. The hashtag #FamiliesBelongTogether trended in social media and the story dominated cable news. But the truth is this travesty has long been in the making.

The unprecedented numbers of people crossing the U.S./Mexico border since the 90’s is directly tied to NAFTA and the devastating affect that agreement had on small corn farmers south of the border as well as the stagnation it caused in wages. According to the Black Agenda Report, “The average Mexican wage was 23 percent of the U.S. manufacturing wage in 1975. By 2002, it had fallen to less than 12 percent. NAFTA hurt Mexican wages, rather than reducing the differential. In the 20 years after NAFTA went into effect, the buying power of the Mexican minimum wage dropped by 24 percent.”

Increased migration was a known consequence of implementing NAFTA. This was forecast back in the 90’s but instead of helping to ease the bad economic conditions we helped to create, the United States militarized the borders, while the right demonized the undocumented community and the corporate media did a poor job overall reporting on what the endorsers of NAFTA promised and what it actually delivered, both here and south of the border.

All of this set the stage for the establishment of policies that further penalized people who were only trying to escape unbearable living conditions that were not of their making. To make bad matters worse, also during this period, the private prison industry was ushered in to build more detention centers—for-profit ones, of course. Lest we forget, detention, like slavery, is a business.

These draconian policies are not enacted in a vacuum. They reflect the sentiments of our society–they demonstrate just how much we’ll allow. And they establish the beginnings of societal norms. That was true 150 years ago when it was perfectly legal for my great-great grandmother to be sold as easily and as legally as you’d sell your used piano today.

Both the laws and our selective enforcement of those laws are a reflection of our collective sentiments. It’s hard to imagine that Trump and Sessions would ever consider enforcing the zero tolerance policy on the over 100,000 Canadian unlawfull immigrants. Can anyone imagine children born to undocumented Canadians being snatched from their parents and put into cages.

In some ways, we’re making progress. More people have become woke since the 2016 election. They’re contributing to organizations like the ACLU, they’re protesting, joining organizations like Justice Democrats, and they’re supporting candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Stacey Abrams.

But Donald Trump’s base is no less committed to vote for him in 2020 than they were in 2016 and our election system is as broken.

If you’re among the throngs of people who want to know more—want to do more, consider joining us for the Left Coast Forum Aug 24-26, 2018 in Los Angeles at the LA Trade Tech for a convening for progressives. We’ve got some great speakers lined up and a program that’ll educate and enlighten. Oh and they’ll be food. Editorial Board member and Columnist, Sharon Kyle, JD, is the Co-Founder and Publisher of the LA Progressive an online social justice magazine. With her husband Dick, she publishes several other print and online newsletters on political and social justice issues. In addition to her work with the LA Progressive, Ms. Kyle holds a Juris Doctorate, is an adjunct professor at Peoples College of Law in Los Angeles, and sits on the board of the ACLU Pasadena/Foothills Chapter and the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party. Click here to contact the LA Progressive and Ms. Kyle.




is published every Thursday
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

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