Anthony Breznican: Family separation is cruel — but familiar


My family was driving into downtown Los Angeles, and the kids were full of questions.

Where were we going? A protest, I said. A sort of march. Like the March For Science. My little boy and girl asked what this #FamiliesBelongTogether protest was about … and I didn’t know how to explain. I didn’t want to sugarcoat it, but I also didn’t want to frighten them.

I decided to just tell the truth, keeping it simple. “In some countries, people are trying to escape poverty, war and violence, or hunger. And they come to our country asking for help.”

I said these are people following the rules. They are asking for help, not sneaking in. It’s a subtle thing for a kid to grasp. Many adults don’t understand it either.

“Sometimes we give people like that asylum — or shelter — because we have so much and our country has grown and benefited from this kind of generosity. Our own families, your great-great grandparents, came here for the same reasons long, long ago.”

But now, I said, our president has harshly changed the process.

“Rather than keeping the families together while we figure out their situation, like we used to, we are separating the children from the parents, and putting them in detention camps. Our leaders think this is a good way to scare people away from coming to us for help. But your mom and I think this is wrong. And so do a lot of people. We’re trying to get other people to notice and care.”

My daughter, almost 9, absorbed this quietly. I think she understood the sadness of it all. My son, 5, said: “Is it Trump?” It was strange to hear that name in his little voice. I said yes, the president was leading this, but he has many supporters. We have to hope they change their minds.

“Trump is like D-Structs,” my little boy said.

You may be wondering, as I was: Who exactly is “D-Structs”?

“D-Structs is the bad guy on DinoTrux,” my 5-year-old said. “He’s the leader and he’s very mean. He doesn’t like to share. And he takes things the other DinoTrux need to eat. Metal and stuff, even if he has a lot already.”

I am often surprised by the way kids see the world so clearly. It made my heart break, thinking of the children in detention camps who once thought America was the good guy, only to discover we are ruled by a someone as cartoonishly cruel as D-Structs.

Why are so many of our friends and neighbors unable or unwilling to see this ugliness and immorality for what it is?

Over the past year and a half we have become numb to the inhumanity of the MAGA movement. Amid all of the Trump regime’s chaos and corruption, it’s just one more shameful thing: America has detention camps. For children. 

Those of us sickened by this also bear some responsibility. The moral decay that empowered Trump began long ago. Often we ignored it, or held our tongues for the sake of politeness. We should have seen the warning signs.

For example, here’s something our own congressman, Republican Rep. Steve Knight, said in a 2008 debate when he was running for state Assembly:

“I have no problem telling a family, ‘Your child can stay,’” Knight said, as quoted in the Antelope Valley Press. “‘Your child is an American citizen. We’re going to take care of him somehow. But you’re going to have to go.’”

That question was about how to handle undocumented immigrants who have children born in America, but Knight’s attitude was a precursor to this Trump policy.

It’s chilling. Most people, even if they supported deportation in those instances, would have conflicted emotions over a complicated, painful situation. But not Knight. His lack of empathy was the selling point: “No problem!”

Voters failed to see it then, but those words were evidence of a cold-bloodedness that should have disqualified him from office. Instead, he has ascended. In the years since, his views on immigration have remained merciless.

As horror over this situation built, the congressman issued a statement seeming to denounce Trump’s policy. “I understand that our country’s immigration system is in dire need of reform and I absolutely oppose the practice of separating children from their parents at the border,” Knight wrote.

Given his previous statements, I simply don’t believe him. He’s the master of saying one thing while doing another. He’s shifting blame as if he hasn’t been a two-term congressman.

We should have figured out this problem by now, should have achieved meaningful reform that provides a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who would follow the rules if we gave them rules to follow. Steve Knight is one of the people standing in the way of that.

In November, we have a chance to right a wrong and finally remove him. That can be our district’s contribution to reversing this anti-American slide toward brutality and ignorance.

Right now, a Trump supporter is reading this and sputtering, “B-b-but the parents broke the law!”

The crime these parents are typically charged with is a misdemeanor. When you support seizing children and putting them in prison camps over a border-crossing misdemeanor, you commit the greater crime. This is like someone knocking on your door, begging for help after an accident … and you call the police to have them arrested for trespassing.

We’ve all read nauseating reports about these camps, but one Associated Press article about a center in Texas truly haunts me. A witness saw “officials at the facility scold a group of 5-year-olds for playing around in their cage, telling them to settle down. There are no toys or books. But one boy nearby wasn’t playing with the rest. …. He was quiet, clutching a piece of paper that was a photocopy of his mother’s ID card.”

Of all the misery in that description, this stands out: “A group of 5-year-olds” … “in their cage.”

My son is 5. In a few months, he’ll be starting kindergarten.

Where will those other children be? Still in an internment camp that flies the U.S. flag? Still lost to their mothers and fathers?

Unlike Steve Knight, I have a problem with that. So should every decent and humane American.

Anthony Breznican is a Santa Clarita resident.

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