Separating immigrant families isn’t just wrong, it’s a war crime

Intentionally separating families is objectively wrong, and we must fight it vigorously. No matter what excuses are made, let’s call this what it is: collective punishment. We are punishing children for the possibility that their parents have committed a minor crime (a misdemeanor actually), or no crime at all — in the case of asylum seekers. The practice of punishing family members is a deterrent designed to instill terror. If this were a war in the traditional sense, it would also be a war crime under the Geneva Accord. And we are terrorizing people with a horror greater than losing your own life: losing your child.

The people we terrorize are fleeing political or economic environments that threaten their lives, and who are seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Does that horrible crime sound familiar? If you’re reading this as an American, it’s mostly like the story of your ancestors. It’s the fundamental American Story. So why is it taking us so long to mobilize against this barbaric and criminal endeavor?

When reports first started circulating about children being separated from parents, children getting lost in the system, and child “prisons” — I thought this certainly wasn’t possible. I spoke to folks, friends, family, people whom I consider to have good solid belief systems. Although this story wasn’t attracting the same attention and outrage that I expected — maybe these reports weren’t true? Many people doubted it. But others seemed to be rationalizing it — well they are breaking the law after all. Well, maybe the children are better off in a detention center than they were making the dangerous voyage. Excuses. Disbelief. But not yet outrage.

So why have we, the American public, let our immigration policy get to the moral equivalent of war crimes before becoming outraged? Because this journey — across the Mexican desert and the Rio Grande — is not the immigration experience that most of our ancestors experienced. Imagine if instead of armed CBP guards in desert fatigues or a Walmart-turned-child-prison, our social media were filled with images of naval mines littered around Ellis Island, and barbed wire encircling the Statue of Liberty? If so — I bet it wouldn’t have taken the imprisonment of children for us to finally get angry.

Now perhaps the President’s personal experience leads him to assume that if a parent commits a crime, his children must be criminals too. But that’s not what’s driving these new policies. No, let’s call this what it is — bigotry, xenophobia, and now — war crimes perpetrated by Americans on American soil against Latin Americans. Agreed that what we have today is an unsustainable legal framework, and that needs to be fixed. But let’s be clear — this is not a war on immigration, this is a war on immigrants. Separating children is just the newest development in the war on immigrants our government has been waging for the last 18 months. From ICE raids nabbing long time residents spreading fear within law abiding communities, to rescinding the citizenship of naturalized citizens. And these bigoted acts, perpetrated in our names with our taxpayer dollars, are objectively wrong. So it’s time to act.

What can you do? Here’s an idea: a million person march on the Walmart turned child prison. What else can you do? Contact your senators and representatives — ResistBot makes it easy. Demand that they support the Keep Families Together Act, which as of this writing is supported by all Senate Democrats, and zero Republicans. Donate to organizations who will fight to help these children and their parents, and who fight for the end of this American barbarism. RAICES, The ACLU, and Catholic Charities of Houston are good places to look. ActBlue even has a single page where you can donate to several at once. Slate has a longer list of organizations doing work today to help the victims.

And above all else, come November, vote. And vote for candidates who believe that human rights for all people seeking freedom and prosperity are fundamental to the American way.

As a tech leader and public CEO, I’m often advised to stay apolitical. But this isn’t politics, I believe this is a matter of objective right and wrong. Staying silent doesn’t feel like leadership to me. I encourage other leaders to consider the cost of silence.

Note: edited for clarity.

Entrepreneur, CEO and cofounder of Twilio.

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