Wednesday, April 24, 2024

This country’s despicable treatment of immigrant families is nothing new

Protesters speak out against the policy of separating immigrant children from their families. (Image via Flickr Fibonacci Blue CC By 2.0)

By Michelle Hollinger, NDG Special Contributor

The separation of immigrant children from their parents is heart-wrenching and it’s wrong, but it’s also very familiar. Hearing the precious voices of confused, crying children who are being irreversibly traumatized is sickening. Yet, they are not alone.

The general public appears shocked, but our dysfunctional leadership’s lack of compassion is really no surprise. It is an accurate reflection of the minuscule value white people place on non-white families – but it’s nothing new.

America’s child welfare/foster care system is a bastion for the devastating separation of mostly black children from their families under the guise of “abuse” and “neglect.” Cultural nuances that contribute to parenting styles are routinely criminalized as black children are removed from their parents’ care for reasons that don’t meet the “intent to inflict harm” requirement present in most states’ definitions of abuse and neglect.

The inhumane treatment of black families has its roots in slavery when children were sold away from their parents for economic expedience or ripped from them as punishment for daring to defy a master’s degrading dictates. Systemic attacks on black people’s character often carried out by a hugely complicit media, serve to justify dismantling black families. It’s why the same sympathetic public disgusted by the separation of immigrant families assumes that when black children are taken away from their families, it’s for the children’s own good.

One of the most glaring similarities between immigrant and black families is the nonchalant severance of their rights as parents. We’re now hearing that immigrant mothers and fathers have been duped into signing legal documents that permanently strip them of their parental rights. Sounds strikingly similar to the poor black parents whose rights have been unjustly terminated in the child welfare system; a legal powder keg begging for class action litigation.

The system gets away with it because the public doesn’t have a clue and the system counts on the public’s ignorance to sustain its revenue-generating “protection” of children from all those “mean,” “abusive” parents.

The system benefits from the public’s assumption, for example, that most children come into foster care because they were physically or sexually abused. Who challenges a system charged with protecting children from monstrous adults who beat and rape their offspring with reckless abandon? Horrible parents do exist, just not at the rate you think.

The reality is an unacceptable number of black children enter the system due to a nebulous category called “neglect” so masterfully synonymized with poverty that many are taken from loving homes because their parents are too broke to consistently meet their needs without assistance.

The system punishes families who are having a rough go at it; making families experiencing a temporary hardship extremely reluctant to reach out for help from the very agency that is supposed to provide it. Some black families are terrified of contacting their local agency for help because based on what they’ve seen, they believe the system is out to get them.

Who can blame them?

Walk into any dependency courtroom and it appears that the child welfare system was established specifically for poor, mostly black families. Ironic, because once upon a time it did not give a damn about black families and denied them services because of the color of their skin. Now, the dysfunctional bureaucracy is funded based on the number of children removed from their homes and adopted into ostensibly “better” families.

Like the immigrant children hoping to reunify with their parents, children in the child welfare system also face a hard time getting home. The journey to reunification is an arduous, contradictory process fueled by racially tinged double standards.

What is supposed to be a system designed to help ensure children’s safety is instead a stressful maze of court hearings where acronyms and legal jargon are thrown around in a typically adversarial environment that treats parents as criminals.

As we witness immigrant families being severely punished because they entered our country for a better life, the public is right to be outraged. What is happening is inhumane, devastating and just plain wrong. All people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Including black families.

Michelle Hollinger is the author of “Worthy,” available at Contact her at


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