Guest Column: The cries of a child still haunt
Catholic Charities welcomed Ruth Ann Hepler as director of development. Provided by Catholic Charities Jacksonville.
By Ruth Ann Hepler
Posted at 2:01 AM
In December 2001, my husband and I traveled to China with our two biological daughters, then just barely 6 and 8 years old, to adopt a girl who had just turned 5.
In anxious anticipation of adding this child to our family, we had spent the previous several months sending her photos so that she would know what we looked like when we arrived.
But we were naively unprepared for the crushing emotional response that separation from her “orphanage mama” would cause.
The sight of this tiny, brown child, standing in the chaos of a dingy government office, a single tear rolling down her cheek, haunts me still.
Nearly 17 years later, I still cannot find the words to describe the look in her eyes.
Sitting on my lap in the bus on the way to our hotel, our new daughter cried with a desperation that I had never heard in the voices of my other children — and she kept repeating a phrase over and over again.
In the hotel, there was a room service waitress who knew enough English to explain to us what the phrase meant:
“I want to go home.”
I think of that day many years ago when I see the faces and hear the voices of the children abruptly separated from their parents at our Southern border because of the “zero–tolerance policy” imposed by President Donald Trump’s administration.
And my heart aches.
These children don’t understand what is happening to them; they don’t speak our language.
Many of these children are being held in detention centers where those in charge of their care are instructed not to touch, hold or comfort them.
They don’t know if or when they will see their parents again. And they don’t know why.
When I hear Attorney General Jeff Sessions callously pontificate that their parents could have avoided this tragedy by not coming to the United States in the first place, I shake my head in disbelief that the greatest, richest country on Earth could be so cruel — and so lacking in empathy for people who see no better option left in life but to risk their lives and those of their children to cross the border.
Yes, our immigration system is broken. But we can do better, America.
We can and we must.
By the way, that tearful child on that haunting day in China many years ago — our daughter, Sally — is now a senior at the University of Florida majoring in advertising and women’s studies.
Ruth Ann Hepler is a Jacksonville lawyer.