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CROSSING THE BORDER – THEN & NOW

Photo courtesy New York Times – Credit Julia Le Duc/Associated Press

Deyan Ranko Brashich

Reading and watching the news I am outraged by the treatment of babies and children in detention facilities on our southern border. The image of a three-year-old curly headed girl with a tear stained face behind a chain link fence pops up on my television screen, alone and apparently without parent or guardian – a dangerous alien lawfully detained, no longer a threat to law and order.

This photograph, along with images of children huddled in aluminum wraps on cold, hard cement floors, came hard on the heels of an appeal by an animal rights organization seeking money to “help heal the deep physical and emotional scars that have been inflicted on them [the pets]”. “Right now, somewhere in America, there is an animal being beaten and another locked in a cage … these scared innocent animals do not realize there is hope for a better life…” Instead of kids the ad features pitiful photos of puppies and kittens behind bars and chain link fences.

The worst of the lot was the front-page New York Times photo of a drowned, dead “father and daughter … face down in the muddy water along the banks of the Rio Grande, her tiny head tucked inside his T-shirt, an arm draped over his neck …”, deaths which could have been avoided.

I am no stranger to illegal border crossings. In 1946, with our lives at stake, my mother, grandmother, brother and I fled ex-Yugoslavia seeking refuge in occupied Austria. The escape was the full nine yards, complete with a “coyote”, actually a moonlighting rural postman, who smuggled people out and smuggled contraband cigarettes back in across a border protected by mine fields and soldiers with orders to shoot at sight.

At dawn, after walking all night, our coyote pointed us to a distant military border check point flying the Union Jack. After checking in, Mom went to give our personal data to the British military, while my brother and I were treated to breakfast complete with tea, crumpets and jam – a war time treat. Then, as now, my brother and I were taken to a jail cell but the door remained open and the young soldiers made sure that than we had blankets keeping us warm while we took a nap.

The enlisted men who kept watch over us had just gone through death and war but remembered younger brothers and sisters back home. They treated us with human compassion, not like what happens today.

My other illegal border crossing was in 1954 during a visit to Niagara Falls. Now a displaced person, I was legally in the United States evidenced by a “green card” which I had promptly lost and hadn’t bothered to replace. By then I was as American as apple pie, decked out in Wrangler jeans, Keds high top sneakers and a T shirt.

With my parents strolling along the shore admiring the Japanese maple trees I followed a gaggle of tourists and a tour guard listening to his spiel about the river and the falls. They walked onto a bridge for a better look-see and I followed along. Walking back to shore we came to a subway like turnstile. As I was about to go through a fat, cigar smoking border agent asked “Hey kid, where are you going?” He shrugged when I told him I was going back to shore and asked “What’s your name kid?”

My name and my answer to “Where were you born kid?” set off alarm bells and laid bare the loss of my green card. What followed was an extensive interrogation of where I lived and went to school. The penultimate question “What’s your Principal’s name, kid?” and answer “Mrs. Tobin” proved to be good enough to let me back in to the good old USA, with a “What a dumb kid!” welcome.

What has led border patrol officers and detention guards to ignore the suffering and agony of the kids in their charge? Many have children of their own or have extended families with nieces, nephews, grandchildren of all ages – yet none have come forward to condemn and charge others and their supervisors of crimes and misdemeanors. Why?

The answer is to be found in the disproportionate distribution of wealth. On December 22, 2018, just before the Holidays, the United States government shut down and remained shut for 35 days. While the government “shut down” it continued to operate with the mail delivered, air traffic controllers manning radar screens and Social Security payments made. Government employees reported for work and performed their jobs. They just didn’t get paid.

With 78% of the United States work force living paycheck to paycheck there were no strikes or job actions. Workers swallowed their pride, kept their heads down, took their lumps and covered the most pressing of expenses with high interest credit cards, defaults and the $400 rainy day fund the average worker has squirrelled away and reported for work. Any other alternative would put them and their dependents at risk.

The choice was clear: do you ignore the plight of the kids in you care or are your kids and their survival of paramount importance? Clearly survival trumps the right thing to do. 

Deyan Ranko Brashich is a contributor writing from New York. He is the author of Letters from America, Contrary Views and Dispatches. His contact and blog “Contrary Views” is at www.deyanbrashich.com

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