Opinion | ‘What Part of Illegal Don’t You Understand?’

While all this was going on, I was acutely aware that I was the only natural-born American citizen in my family. So at 14 I lobbied my congressional leaders in Kansas to save my sister. This led to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger sending a telegram to Argentina’s dictator, Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla, asking why my sister was being held without charge. (Mr. Kissinger is, of course, the same diplomat who appeared to give the new regime a green light for human rights abuses when he told Argentina’s foreign minister in June 1976, “We understand you must establish authority,” and, “If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly.”)

On the night of Sept. 21, 1976, my sister was released. She had been imprisoned for five months. What was done to her in that time? It was so painful for her to relive the experience that, although we’re very close, we didn’t speak of it for decades.

Now I know: My sister was raped, forced to stand in stress positions, blindfolded, and held in a damp, cold cell. She went days without food or sleep. The night she was released, there was a thick frost in the air. Often, prisoners were shot moments after being let go. Walking away from the prison, she told me, she expected to feel a bullet at any minute.

The American government generally does not allow innocent people to be imprisoned, raped and shot in the back. These are the kinds of experiences refugees who come here seeking safety are fleeing.

We can have a pragmatic, compassionate refugee policy. We don’t have to choose between letting everyone in and no one in.

Conservatives may not like this, but we have to let through people who say they are afraid. Allow applicants into the United States and monitor them until their court hearings (which nine in 10 do show up for). Don’t lock them up, as we are doing with some 60,000 immigrants a night, in places where they get inadequate medical care. At least seven migrant children have died in immigration custody since 2018. This simply didn’t happen before. Our government is killing children through neglect.

Make the court process fair; make it fitting of our country. Take our increasingly politicized immigration courts out of the Department of Justice and make them independent. Make sure that immigrant children have a government-funded lawyer, since most cannot afford representation, which basically guarantees they will lose. From October 2017 to June 2018, 70 babies went to court alone.

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