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During Hanukkah, Shedding Light on Child Detention in Tornillo, Texas

During Hanukkah, Shedding Light on Child Detention in Tornillo, Texas

Three protesters in white with a "Families Belong Together" sign

It is hard to believe that Hanukkah is already here. I am sure many other people get to this time of year and wonder, “How did we get here?”

This question is not solely about the passage of time and Hanukkah, however. It is also relevant to the immigration situation at our southern border and throughout the undocumented migrant population in our country. I still have so much to learn about the current immigration crisis, but I have quickly come to learn quite a bit about one aspect of immigration: child separation and detention.

Since my drive this summer with Yeni Gonzalez, child separation and detention has taken a hold of me. I cannot look away from what is being done in my name, in all of our names. That is why this past month I drove to Tornillo, Texas, to raise my voice about the child prison that now holds over 2,300 children. The children held in Tornillo are between the ages of 13-17. They are boys and girls. And they are living with daily trauma as they wait to be reunited with family. I say they wait to be reunited because I believe that Tornillo is an ongoing example of the family separation policy we were led to believe ended this summer.

Children do not venture from Central America and travel thousands of miles without having a destination in mind. These children and families have memorized phone numbers and addresses as ends to their journeys when they cross our border.

When our government holds children for months under the guise that background checks are holding things up—even when they do not conduct appropriate background checks on workers in the Tornillo prison camp—our government is clearly engaging in family separation. I do not believe we should release these children into the U.S. without considering their welfare, but the way the government is managing thousands of children in Tornillo clearly prioritizes their immigration status over their welfare.

On Tuesday, November 27, a number of news articles circulated about Tornillo. HBO’s VICE news also covered the facility. But there is still so much we don’t know. The information gathered by the media in recent days all comes from documents released (and censored) by the government. We have no way of knowing what is really going on in Tornillo. There are no third-party inspections. Even Texas’ Child Protective Services cannot inspect Tornillo because it sits on Federal land.

The recent media reports on Tornillo have shed light on what is happening there, but more light is needed. In this time of light, as we light our Hanukkiyut, I hope we are reminded to be lights for the world. As a people who have history in camps, and whose spiritual tradition emphasizes our sacred obligation to welcome the stranger, we are in a unique position to shed light on what is happening in Tornillo. Congress is beginning to act on Tornillo, but we must ensure that they no longer abdicate their responsibility to ensure the safety, both physical and emotional, of children who have come to our country seeking asylum. Immigration is coming to a head in our country and we Jews continue to lead. It brings me comfort knowing that the Religious Action Center has been working on these issues for months and years. I believe we can and will change our system for the better.

Published: 12/04/2018