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Joan Lombardi's picture

My father came to the United States when he was about 14 years old, full of the hope that every immigrant feels. He worked hard building houses, raising a family and teaching us to love our country.  My mother, also a daughter of immigrants, shared his love and sense of justice. I can’t think of any other way to honor their lives than to stand up and speak out on the tragedy that continues to unfold on the United States southern border. After weeks of separating children and parents, far too many children remain separated, prolonging the stress and disorientation.  The Administration has now pivoted to family incarceration, a traumatic experience for any child, let alone those who have already lived through dislocation.  Every day that goes by the impact on children continues: as delays in reunification grow, as families remain locked in prisons, and as new proposals emerge to take away the due process protections that the United States has stood for over generations.

As a former public official tasked with overseeing early child development programs and policies, I know that our government can do better. Rather than increasing stress in the lives of children, particularly young children, we should be doing everything we can to buffer the damage and to provide supportive environments that assure a sense of safety and trust.  Families should be allowed to stay together in settings that provide community and support.

Just last month at the World Health Assembly, many governments and stakeholders welcomed a Nurturing Care Framework which called for all young children to have access to good health and nutrition, safety and security, responsive caregiving and early learning opportunities. This framework should guide the action of every nation when it comes to all children, those living in the country and those seeking a better life. It calls for an enabling environment which includes policies that support families so they in turn can be the core support that children need to thrive. The U.S. should be a model of nurturing care, leaving a true legacy for the future.

We all need to better understand the conditions that drive people to seek a better life for their children: poverty, violence and lack of opportunity. While we cannot solve all these problems, we can as a country increase our foreign assistance to help improve the systems of education and health, investing more in those issues that promote peace and prosperity rather than war and poverty which drives people to flee.

Many people are asking what they can do to make a difference. Every action matters. Start by letting those who represent you know that you do not support the policy decisions that are separating and incarcerating families. Join with others in your community to have your voice heard. Volunteer to work on behalf of vulnerable children and families who may already be living in your neighborhoods. Ask others to join with you to put our democracy into action.

The journey for change starts with the first step. We must all work to change the current climate: creating more dialogue rather than divisions, creating policies that support families rather than separating them or putting them in detention. The United States must stand for fairness and justice for those who have lived here for generations and for those who seek a better life here and around the world. Children depend on all of us coming together and speaking out on their behalf. This is the moment; there is no time to waste.


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