Sunday, June 10, 2018
The wail came from the child strapped on the EMS guerney. The Emergency Department was at its busiest with its usual din of alarms, and conversations between staff and patients, but that single word stopped me in my tracks. I could hardly see the patient with the crowd gathered around him, but I could hear the anguish and desperation from that single word. The child was shouting for his father. He was hoarse, his voice cracking.
Two men in black shirts emblazoned with the word ICE stood silent but watched everybody with eagle eyes. Their stern faces as they stood next to the patient did not invite any questions. A social worker from the detention shelter presented herself to the triage nurse. “We need a Psychiatric consult for the kid, he tried to bang his head on the floor after he was caught running away… again.”
As the triage nurse reached out to put the blood pressure cuff on the boy, he cowered in fear and started screaming unintelligibly. The only word that we understood was "Papi". He repeated it over and over again, as if such repetition will conjure the man. His voice was hoarse, probably from hours of screaming. The social worker spoke in Spanish to the boy and tried to calm him down. The boy clung to the social worker, the person most familiar to him. His lips quivered and his beautiful brown eyes spoke of the terror he felt surrounded by strangers.
The patient was a 7-year-old from Guatemala who was separated from his father at the Immigration Center. He lost his mother two years ago from a violent attack by a drug gang in his city. Father and son were caught trying to cross the border to America, to seek asylum, anything to escape what was a living hell for them. At this moment, the boy is trapped in a nightmare that no child should ever be in.
As part of the ‘zero tolerance” policy against illegal immigration, the father was whisked away to the detention center and the boy was brought into the processing center with hundreds of other migrant children, also kept apart from their parents. Countless other kids who learned early on that America is not the haven that their parents thought it would be.
The pediatrician shooed everybody from the room except for the nurse and the social worker. The ICE men stood guard outside the room. The charge nurse called for the psychiatric doctor to examine the child. Until then, the staff could only try to calm him down and prevent him from bolting out of the door. He was sitting on the bed, refusing to speak with anyone else; his arms clutching a teddy bear that the nurse gave him.
It was difficult walking away from the terrified little boy. There was nothing I can do at that moment. But I will do something to share my voice to stop this cruelty to the vulnerable victims of a xenophobic law.
I do not condone illegal immigration, but is it really necessary to separate the children from their parents? This is emotional blackmail and it hurts the kids the most. Are we risking the children's mental well-being just to enforce the rules?
How much heartache could a 7-year old take? How did it come to this that a child is taken away from his “Papi”? How did it all come down to "zero humanity"?