My daughter was probably not more than a few days old when her mother made the decision to place her for adoption in China. Although I never had the opportunity to visit the orphanage where she lived, I did have the opportunity to meet the nannies that had cared for her. Love is a universal language and I could tell by how they fussed over her and chided me for not dressing her more warmly, that they truly cared for her.
I traveled to China to adopt my daughter when she was 18 months old. When she was placed in my arms, it was as if she understood that she had found home. She was the only baby adopted that day that did not spend the morning crying. Instead, she quietly looked around the room and at me, slowly taking it all in. On the way back to the hotel, she fell asleep on my lap as other babies in our group still cried.
My daughter immediately bonded with me. Friends used to call her my koala bear because she hung onto me so tight. It would take months for her to let anyone else hold her. It would take several years before I could drop her off at daycare or school without her crying for me to stay. She just turned eleven. She’s strong, athletic, smart, funny, and for the most part, well adjusted. However, every now and then that insecurity creeps in, and the idea that I could leave her resurfaces. Whenever that happens, I hold her tight and tell her how much I love her, assuring her that I am not going anywhere. If the day ever comes when my assurances are not enough, she will have access to quality mental health care to help see her through.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the immigrant children currently being held in detention facilities in this country. As detention centers overflow with immigrants from Central America who continue to cross our borders, fleeing the terror of violence and poverty in their homelands, the policies of this country have hardened against them. Many of these immigrants are children, some of whom were separated from their parents at the border. Others were old enough to make the journey on their own, making the difficult choice to leave family behind. Regardless of how they got here, their quest for the freedom this country once offered to refugees has ended in a detention center where their hope slowly dies.
Many of these children cry out for parents who are unable to respond because, most often, they have no idea where their children have been taken. The cries of the children go unanswered. These children are crammed into caged areas, without enough to eat, sleeping on concrete floors in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. They try to take care of each other as best as possible. And yet, one of the cruelest aspects of these detentions is the no hug policy which forbids any physical contact with the children, either from the guards or from other children looking to comfort each other. The psychological damage caused by this unnecessarily cruel policy will last a lifetime for most of these children. I know from my experience with my own daughter, a hug can do wonders to calm the fears of a child. Denying this simple contact between one human and another in the face of devastating loss and depravation, is doing irreparable psychological damage to these children.
As my church, and others in my area, continue to protest outside the Homestead Detention Center, it is my hope that the children inside can hear the voices raised in protest, so they know that they are not forgotten. Furthermore, it is my hope that in the absence of physical human contact, each child can feel comforted by God’s steadfast embrace, tightly wrapping them with a love that no one can take away from them. No child’s cries ever go unanswered by God.
Rev. Lisa LeSueur
Rev. Lisa LeSueur is the Pastor of Congregational and Staff Care at Coral Gables United Church of Christ and a member of the Board of Directors of the UCC Mental Health Network. She serves as the UCC Florida Conference WISE Mental Health Coordinator and the Suicide Prevention Initiative Coordinator for Nami Miami. She lives in Coral Gables, Florida with her wife and their two children.