Putting immigrant children in detention centers is not normal. The horrific conditions confronting these children are not normal. For more than two years, we have been barraged by a narrative vilifying and dehumanizing immigrants and refugees coming to America’s borders. We cannot become desensitized to the suffering and trauma that we are inflicting on families and children fleeing to America. Families who, knowing the dangers they face in coming here, still believe that we are a nation of opportunity where they and their children can seek lives better than those they leave behind. That families would risk detention and deprivation in the United States for themselves and their children should tell us a lot about the conditions they are fleeing.

One year ago, policies which separated children from their families went into effect. There was a strong public backlash to these practices. However, one year later, what caused a return of focus was not the fact that these detention centers continued to house children separated from their families, but rather on the treatment and conditions that these children were experiencing. This is the danger of normalization. That the discussion has shifted ever so slightly down the path toward the incarceration of children being seen as normal.

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The inclusive and open America that many of us hold in our minds and our hearts is one that we are struggling to see reflected in our current environment. Instead, we see bigotry and hate permeating public spaces. Where cruelty seems to be a regular by-product of policies which are antithetical to everything most Americans stand for. The problem is that the core values that should not be compromised by partisan politics have become so and finding common ground to stand together as a broad community is increasingly difficult.

However, certain issues cannot be defined by partisan politics. Some things are just wrong and must be opposed. Such is the detention of small children, who are being treated as if they are hardened criminals. This is one of those moments where we will be judged as a society, by the global community, by our faiths, and by future generations. What we do now to stand up against and stop the barbaric cruelty facing immigrant children will be part of what defines us moving forward.

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ADL stands side by side with our immigrant community, and we stand against the horrific practice of putting children in detention centers, not to mention the conditions they are suffering through. We call on all leaders, regardless of party, to condemn this practice, and we call on all Americans of conscience to stand together against what we are seeing. This is not normal, and we cannot allow it to become normal.

Aaron Ahlquist

regional director, Anti-Defamation League

New Orleans