The Institutionalized Cruelty of Separation: My Story

By Byron José Sun (June 29, 2018)

in 1988, a few days before Thanksgiving and just a couple of weeks after the picture below was taken; my mother and I were sitting in a detention center in San Ysidro, CA. My mother was 19 and I was under two years old. The border patrol had arrested us after the sewage tunnels the Coyote lead us through dumped us in San Isidro. We were stripped searched and processed until we sat in a small cell where a stool was the only furniture. The detention center was not prepared for the thousands of Central Americans fleeing the poverty and violence of dictatorships and civil wars that were backed by the US.

As my mother sat on the stool with me in her arms, we were feed milk and cookies three times a day, and we were expected to sleep on the floor with just one blanket. What people don’t understand is that it’s not easy leaving everything behind to migrate to the US. My mother had escaped a Coyote that kept us prisoners for a month in different hotels around Mexico. She went hungry many nights. She struggled to keep me happy. She went through a lot to keep me safe. We were only arrested in San Ysidro because she started screaming in fear that I was going to be killed by how hard the other immigrants were trying to keep me from crying.

As my Facebook is flooded with all the news of children being separated from their parents I can’t stop thinking about how my mother would have felt if I was ripped away from her arms, from her warmth, from her protection, and from her love. There are no words that I can write here to describe how immigrant parents who are experiencing the ‘Institutionalized Cruelty’ of separation must be feeling. No human being should ever feel what those parents are feeling. No human being deserves to be treated as less than human just because they are searching for a better future. As a nation we need to act not with fear and hate in our hands—instead, we must act with kindness and love if we ever want to keep our full humanity.


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