Never Again means Never Again for everyone

By Terry Fear

One doesn’t ask of one who suffers, “What is your country and what is your religion?” One merely says, “You suffer. This is enough for me. You belong to me and I shall help you.”
—- Louis Pasteur

Terry Fear joins demonstrators outside Homestead migrant detention camp.

People in crisis should take precedence over narrow points of law or politics. But too often, compassion for human beings created in God’s image is left out of legal or geopolitical solutions.

I have become increasingly alarmed concerning the humanitarian crisis at America’s southern border. My husband Steve and I are firm believers in putting our beliefs into action.

We see people at the border desperately seeking asylum are suffering and that is enough for us. To paraphrase Louis Pasteur, they “belong to us and we shall help them.”

We feel useless during what appears to be a hopeless situation taking place hundreds of miles from us. We live in the Midwest and have no skills that would benefit anybody.

But we can be witnesses. Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves…. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)

Sad Fourth at Homestead detention center

Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children

On July 4, we were in Florida and made the three-hour drive to Homestead to find the federal detention center and protest on behalf of the migrant children held inside.

We could not find the address anywhere online for the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, believing this might be a strategy to keep protesters away.

A nearby store owner directed us to the location at 470 Bougainville Blvd., and we drove to the Homestead Reserve Air Base which was adjacent to the 3200-bed camp.

Authorities kept protesters across the street from the migrant compound. Significant numbers of armed Department of Homeland Security law enforcement officers were present. Hecklers drove past waving MAGA signs.

The detention center was fenced off with canvases covering the chain-link, preventing people from seeing inside or the children from seeing out. Loud music played over speakers, preventing any communication between the children and those on the outside.

In reply, protesters deployed a line of stepladders along the side of the road, allowing us to wave signs in Spanish, some showing heart symbols, for the children’s benefit.

Bearing witness at heartbreaking scene

Protestors waved signs, hoping to provide some measure of support for the detainees.

Authorities would periodically lead small groups of boys outdoors for recreation, and we would wave our signs and chant support in Spanish.

We waved, and two boys waved back. The rest didn’t bother to look up, perhaps too discouraged to engage.

The scene truly broke my heart. Hispanic teens whose homes had become so unbearable they felt the need to migrate to the U.S. now found themselves inside a Florida detention camp.

Every time we turn our heads the other way…when we tolerate what we know to be wrong…when we fail to speak up and speak out…we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice.
-— Robert F. Kennedy

I struck up a conversation with one of the DHS police officers who appeared to have a kind face. My white hair and age allow a certain amount of license.

“I bet you’d like to be somewhere else on the Fourth,” I said. A half-smile, but no comment, came in response. I tried again. “You know, it breaks my heart. Those kids look like my grandsons. I’m so helpless to do anything. All I can do is come and see. If there was a sign-out sheet, I’d take one home with me.”

He answered, “It’s good you came.”

A descendant of immigrants

Federal authorities had cleared the Homestead detention center by August.

As with many Americans, I am a descendant of immigrants.

In 1893, immigrants could freely enter the U.S., and three generations of my family boarded the Hamburg-American line’s Scandia to reach a country where my great grandparents could work hard and live free.

Here, my great-great grandmother could escape the shame of living as a single parent. My ancestors didn’t speak English. They came with a wicker trunk and a 3-month old baby — my grandmother.

Would my grandmother have been taken from her family? Would they have all been separated, some to stay and some to be sent back?

Today, as political America seems to err on the side of racism and isolationism, I wonder what would have become of my German family if they had been Mexican or Honduran in 2019. They had no English and no money, with farming as their occupation.

Would my grandmother have been taken from her family? Would they have all been separated, some to stay and some to be sent back?

Yet, with opportunity, these proud German-Americans produced a son with an an American name, Robert, who would join the Navy and serve in the Pacific during WWII.

Return to Florida

Steve and I returned to Florida in August, to show our grandson first-hand how Americans treat unaccompanied migrant Hispanic boys. We would bring our own stepladder this time. I would find another officer with whom to conduct a grandmotherly conversation.

But between the hours of 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. Saturday, July 27, the last boys held in Homestead departed in vans and buses. (Authorities reported they had cleared the facility by August 3.)

Elie Wiesel said, “Always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

The Homestead “shelter” is empty. Protesters claim victory, but express concern over the lack of transparency. Where are these children now?

I wish I trusted the government to follow the words of Micah (6:8) to “act justly….”

Elie Wiesel said, “Always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

I have a Bend the Arc poster propped up in my living room window. Against the backdrop of the SS St. Louis, it says: Never Again/Means Never Again/For Everyone.

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