Pedro Rios is a dad and immigration rights leader in San Diego. For Father’s Day 2018, he asks: How can families celebrate when kids are being ripped apart from parents?
SAN DIEGO — On Father’s Day 2018, I will be fortunate to have dignity with my family. I will celebrate with my two sons, my father and my extended family. We’ll chill to our favorite tunes and take turns grilling our choice foods at my parents’ home. We’ll catch up on family gossip and share our summer break plans, as it should be. Everyone, on this special day and every day, should take the time to cherish and ground themselves with their families.
Unfortunately, thousands of families arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as many who are our neighbors, will be forcibly torn apart by federal immigration enforcement agencies. The topic of family separation has filled my news feed over the last several weeks with harrowing stories of workplace immigration raids, migrant families seeking asylum at the ports, or those that U.S. Border Patrol agents separate at the border.
In May, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a shift in policy that will guarantee more fathers and mothers will have their children stripped from them. “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” Sessions stated. “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”
Recently, he even cited the Bible to justify these atrocious actions. He blamed families fleeing difficult situations in their home countries.
As a father to growing teenagers, I can’t fathom what being separated from my sons would be like. This is why I was rattled to read about Marco Antonio Muñoz, a 39-year old father from Honduras who recently took his own life in Texas, after the U.S. Border Patrol took his child from him when he, his wife and their child crossed into the United States. They had traveled from their native country of Honduras. U.S. Border Patrol agents disdainfully described Marco Antonio as having lost “his shit” when they physically removed his child from his hands.
In early May, I witnessed a violent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid in San Diego, where ICE agents pointed their weapons at children. After three hours of stalking a home, the agents broke the door, guns drawn and extracted the father who was described to me as a hard-working man. The intense episode overshadowed the first communion the family was supposed to celebrate days later.
What meaning can a Father’s Day celebration have, an occasion meant to bring together family, when U.S. immigration policies rip apart families and normalize separation for those who are our neighbors or who seek refuge from other parts of the world?
What obligation do we have as fathers, as mothers, as community members to insist that a commitment to uphold our basic human dignity must upend morally corrupt policies that denigrate us as human beings?
Recently, several hundred people gathered at a rally in the area. We were responding to a call from migrants detained at a facility inside, who denounced abusive and retaliatory treatment by the detention guards. The organizers invited me to say a few words, and I lifted up Marco Antonio Muñoz’s name, because this is where we need to begin.
As fathers (and mothers, and brothers, and sisters and as relatives), we cannot forget those victimized by inhumane policies. We must carry them with us, as we struggle to create a path centering on human life. This is my commitment to my two teenagers on this Father’s Day.
Pedro Rios is the San Diego program director for the U.S.-Mexico Border Program of the American Friends Service Committee. He also works with the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium and the Southern Border Communities Coalition. He wrote this essay for Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Equal Voice storytelling publication. Equal Voice is Marguerite Casey Foundation’s publication featuring stories of America’s families creating social change. With Equal Voice, we challenge how people think and talk about poverty in America. All original and contracted Equal Voice content – articles, photos and videos – can be reproduced for free, as long as proper credit and a link to our homepage are included.