By: Ben B. Boothe, Sr.

Some years ago, when I was a bank president, I received a message from a friend, a young Doctor, who had lived in Ethiopia. His parents were missionaries, and when they came back to the USA, he went to medical school with the intention of going back and helping the children of Ethiopia. The hope of returning to Ethiopia and memories of his rich childhood there had moved him deeply. His stories moved me, and at the time, I wanted to go to Ethiopia for a few weeks just to “touch the country, meet the people and breath it all in.”

But there was a war going on there, political sides of far left and right were in battle. Two days before my planned departure, I got a message from Ethiopia, “Don’t come now. There are bodies in the streets. Dangerous for Americans.”

To this day  I regret that decision not to go, not to get involved, not to help somehow. 

I didn’t go, but I read the stories of the relentless violence and cruelty of war. One story of a revolutionary throwing a child up the air and catching it with the blade of his spear seemed to wound me. I shared my horror with my dad, then 70 years old, who had fought as a Marine at Iwo Jima, and came back with medals and wounds physical and horrors that sometimes returned in his dreams. He told me that he saw the same thing done in WWII by Japanese soldiers with bayonets on their rifles, disemboweling babies thrown into the air, as their mothers watched. He said, “The cruelty of war, and of angry powerful men is impossible to express in words.”

I thought that unspeakable cruelty like that was over, just a bad dream of the past, when 68 years later, we saw the tactics of ISIS, of taking over cities in Iraq and raping the women, while making husbands watch as they beheaded their children. Then making the bleeding wives watch as they beheaded their husbands. Sickening, primitive, cruel and stark behavior of craven beasts, of  men.

More than 2,000 kids in prisons or detention centers with the government preparing for 20,000 more. Could any of us as Americans have expected this?

I never expected that I would live to see our nation take infant children away from their mothers as they escaped terrible violence in Latin America, trying to come to the USA for safe haven. 

As a judge in Texas said: “When we arrest a person or put them in jail, we give them a receipt for their personal belongings. Now is our government taking a woman’s baby without even giving her a receipt?”  

Thousands of children, just kids really, in our own United States have been taken by force from their parents who have often walked, hitchhiked and gone through hell to make it to the “safe and welcoming nation” of America, only to be detained in prisons and have their kids sometimes flown thousands of miles away, with no notification, no address and often no phone number to reach them.  No doubt our statue of liberty with its welcoming light must be weeping these days.

I have worked for the World Bank, the USIS, and USIA all over the world to promote the progressive kindness of America. In all of those Communist, Hindu, Muslim and dictatorship-bound nations, I have never seen such atrocious disrespect for families, for the sacred bond of mother and child, as has happened in my own nation.

I do not know whether to weep, scream in anger, or bow my head in shame. Words with enough power to describe the disappointment I feel in our leaders elude me. This Time Magazine cover illustrates how many Americans feel.

I read with disgust the reports of comments of our Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, and comments of our President Trump, where members of their political party laugh and cheer when they spoke of what a good deterrent kidnapping children from helpless parents is. I am not a religious fanatic or a political activist, and I try to respect people's rights to their preferred religious and personal political beliefs. But I cannot think of any religion or legitimate political party with a code of social decency that would condone forced separation of families, and then a policy of a lack of information of how to communicate or even know for sure where their kids are, or how they are. 

The policy is wrong and ill-conceived, and it tells us far more about the hearts and soul of our political leaders that we wanted to know. With at least two court decisions stating that these children must be reunited with their parents, the system seems to be in a stalemate. It may be an intentional foot dragging, but who knows? The President one day said that due to the advice and compassion of his wife and daughter, he decreed that children should not be separated from their parents. But the next day he reversed himself saying they might be detained or separated for much longer periods of time, and if the parents were convicted of a crime (including coming to America in desperation without a visa) the parents might go to jail for long terms … no solution for the kids left alone in America and held in detention centers by the U.S. government. Then the government announced that it is preparing 20,000 beds for future detentions of these desperate families coming from Latin America.

The US Congress has been stalemated and is impotent, because attempts at progressive solutions or a fair immigration policy have been blocked by far-right-wing elements who no doubt would consider kidnapping of children by the USA an acceptable means to discouraging people from coming to our nation.

I asked my wife a question and wish you to pose a similar question to the significant other in your life.

“What would you do if someone with an immigration uniform knocked on your door and took your children without so much as a way to find them.  How would you feel?  How would you respond?”

My wife said: “You already know. I would fight. I would spend every last penny, every ounce of energy to get lawyers or anyone who could help me find my kids and get them back into my arms.”

When my father told me that there are no words to describe the cruelty of war -- the horror of it -- he was right. We are in a political war, a conflict of culture, a division of our nation that has been promoted by a president eager to fan the flames of conflict.  

I have wanted to write this story but been unable to get my mind around the fact that it is happening under the leadership at the highest levels of our nation. 

This will forever be a stain, a legacy of cruelty, upon the leaders of the USA, our elected officials, and the agencies of our government that have implemented these policies. 

I can only imagine how our grand kids, when they read of this in the history books, will react. When they say: “Grandpa, Grandma, how did you let this happen?” Or even more powerfully: “Did you do anything to find a solution? What did you do, Grandpa?”

But there is another matter we must accept, you and I, because we are patriotic Americans. We are American citizens, voters and tax payers. Each of us has a voice and influence and resources. What are we doing to solve the problems?   

The stain of this lack of compassion, this division of families, this cruel way to manipulate the mindset of unfortunate people who are coming here, begging for a chance -- the stain is on our hands because we are Americans. This stain falls upon every American for tolerating it, for allowing it to happen. For voting for and empowering the wrong kind of people. 

I believe, and most of the civilized world believes, that when powerful people drag their feet in complacency, allowing ideologues to complicate things in so many ways, that solutions are intentionally made to be difficult. The kids are locked away, the parents are desperate but unable to negotiate the web of conflicting laws. No doubt, when they are given a blackmail way out, to sign a document that if they are given their kids back, they will leave the USA, some will sign it, will do anything.  Sadly, they left hell holes of crime, violence and poverty only to find another, politically manufactured form of hell, in the United States of America.

We have a president and a “team” in D.C. that seems to be happy to let the complications drag on and on. They do not care if they create despair. They do not care if the children are medically and mentally injured by this trauma. They don’t care if these poor immigrants spend their last dollar and end up destitute and hopeless trying to get their kids back. They seem to enjoy the laughter and banter as they say:

“Let 'em suffer. It serves them right for coming to ‘Our Country,’ let ‘em suffer and go home and tell all of their friends that Americans are cruel and without heart. The USA is no longer the land of hope and freedom.” Already we hear that there have been deaths and sickness and even escapes by children. The stain of this is like murder by policy or killing by bureaucracy. The stain is on the hands of every American, because we have allowed it to happen. 

These people in the House and Senate and in the White House are the same people who don’t seem to care that over 700,000 U.S. school children have endured shootings and mass killings in their schools. These are the same elected people who don’t want to pass laws to solve this epidemic of gun violence, killing our kids and our citizens in our schools and on our streets.

I have seen one study that says there are 80 million guns in America, another study that says there are 300 million guns in America. Which ever, it is more than any other nation on earth, and we have more gun violence than any nation on earth. The same elected people who wrap themselves in the flag and a Bible while they generate policies that somehow result in kids, minors, mentally ill, wife beaters, and people of instability to have easy access to guns. It is said that it is easier to buy a gun at a gun show in America, than it is to get a box of Sudafed for cold congestion at your local drug store.

The point is that somehow we, you and I, aren’t making good choices about who we elect. Because of it we are seeing policies that are cruel, destructive, harmful and dangerous to human beings -- policies that seem to please a certain sect of ideologues, that seem to have drifted far away from the idealistic dream of our forefathers. There is a hope here. We can, as Americans, change this. We can vote in good people. We must vote for good people. 

These words are hard to write. But our nation needs leaders of wisdom, compassion and character. We are lacking this now. We must find competent men and women who understand the great values and policies of our United States. If we don’t, I fear that we will see more and more conflict that becomes more and more violent. We could see our America damaged and changed forever into something dark and dangerous.

It is said that if good, wise, deep and competent people do not stand up for the highest of values, do not stand up for the good and protect the helpless, then the bad, the greedy criminals, the arrogant, heartless thugs will stand up to take power. The vacuum of leadership will be filled. That is what has happened in so many despicable nations with despicable leaders, and that is why so many people are trying to escape those dark places to try to find the light.

We must hold up the torch and be the light. By doing so, it is possible that the cockroaches will run away.

“Suffer little children and bring them to me,” someone said.