A Colombian mum’s view on separating families at the US border
We’ve all seen the news about the US separating families at the Texas border. If you live in America you have probably been bombarded with information about immigrants from Latin American countries who enter the US with the intention to ask for asylum. But if you live in the UK, or anywhere else, you may have been a little less informed about this situation and you may have been left asking why this is happening. How is this possible in this day and age? I mean, it’s the United States of America, the first world, not some barbaric country without law, right?
Let me give you a bit of background on who I am. I was born in Colombia, in 1982. My family has always been financially comfortable. Both my parents are university educated and although they had tough years, we never went to bed without food at night. Far from it.
However, many people in Colombia aren’t so privileged. I won’t overwhelm you with data but millions of families in Colombia live under the poverty line, in extremely deprived conditions and struggle to find a way to feed their families. Inequality reigns in Colombia, like in many other Latin American countries, and you find extreme differences between those who have money and opportunities and those who don’t. The richest people live in close proximity to the poorest, and this places those with the greatest need in a very vulnerable position.
This is because, in many Latin American countries you can buy anything you want if you have the money. And when I say anything, I really mean it. The law will always be on your side.
This post is designed to give you some perspective, because living in a foreign country for over 12 years has taught me that, even if you think you understand another culture, you don’t really fully comprehend it until you’ve experienced it first hand. So I want to share with you some of the things I saw growing up.
I’m sorry if you find the following paragraphs a bit explicit but I want you to understand why these families take their children on an incredibly dangerous journey to face complete uncertainty at the US border.
I saw people so poor they had to collect water from the street drainage to feed their children.
I’ve seen toddlers raiding rubbish bins in search for food, amongst rats and cockroaches.
I’ve seen a family member shot dead in a bar because some guy didn’t like the look of him and happened to have a gun.
I’ve seen an entire family kicked out of their home because somebody more powerful than them decided they needed their land. There was no law, no police, no government who could help this family. The grandparents were murdered in cold blood, in front of the children, to force the family to make the difficult decision to leave with nothing and towards nothing.
So why are governments not intervening? Why are they allowing these abuses? Simply because there are too many families in this situation. And because many people in government are corrupt and take bribes from the rich and the powerful. The situation has become too big and too complex and it won’t change any time soon.
Fortunately Colombia has changed significantly since the 80’s, the ‘narcos’ and Escobar years. The government has addressed efficiently the drug cartels and the country is today much safer and more prosperous than decades ago. Sadly this isn’t the case for many other Central and South American countries.
However, inequality has also led to resentment and crime, and violent gangs often target the poorest people. These families are often presented with only two choices: to stay in unimaginable danger or flee and face uncertainty.
It isn’t hard to see why they choose uncertainty. I myself have a girl and a boy, and If some gang member asked me for any of my children (often the girls from a very young age), I would travel any length to protect them. Even if I didn’t know what was waiting for me at the other end. I’m providing this example because it’s a daily occurrence for parents in deprived South American communities. You can see their stories in the videos produced by the United Nations, which are widely available online.
The President of the US has recently said these families are ‘illegal’ immigrants or ‘economic’ migrants. I just want to clarify these two things. As the former UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband rightly said, these families have the legal right to claim asylum. So they are NOT criminals. You can check this source here https://twitter.com/bbcnewsnight/status/1010178247181701120
And as a Colombian mum, married to a British citizen, with two British-Colombian children I can assure you, raising your kids in a foreign country is sometimes very hard. You have to compromise on all sorts of levels and you’ll never be fully accepted within the community. I’m not complaining, the UK has been nothing but good to me. I have a wonderful husband, two beautiful children, my own house and now my own business; but I’ll always be the lady who speaks a bit funny. I’ll never have my family within a short distance to support me. I will always be seen as an outsider.
That’s ok for me. I arrived in this country with a good level of English, a credit card, a place to stay and a job already secured. I was considered a highly skilled migrant and many doors were open for me. But many people in the US are treated – unfairly – as criminals, or worse, like cattle. Caged and separated from their kids. Deported back to their violent countries without their children.
You may ask, why does the US have to pay for the mistakes of other governments? Sadly, the truth isn’t always so black and white. The US has been actively supporting the eradication of drug cartels in South America through financial incentives. This has in many cases widened the gap between the rich and the poor, leading to corruption and crime. The situation is much more complex that I could ever explain in this post but a quick internet search would provide you a wider picture.
So I’m asking you. Please support any charity organisations you come across who help these families. Please share in social media any news (from reliable sources) you come across and please don’t give up putting pressure on international organisations who have the power to make things right.
Especially if you are a mum. I truly believe if all the mums in this world get together in supporting each other, we can make a huge difference. The most vulnerable ones really need us.