I Know Where the Children Are

And here's what I'm doing in East Harlem to help them.

Shoes of murdered Jews from the Holocaust now bronzed and affixed to the bank of the Danube in Budapest, Hungary. A reminder of how evil unchecked government can be. Photo: Leonard Jacobs.

On May 7, 2018, our nation’s moral standing around the world collapsed. On that date, US Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions, on behalf of the US President, announced the implementation of a “Zero Tolerance” policy for people crossing our Southern border. The US would treat all illegal border crossings as a criminal act, and thus would separate children from their parents rather than keep them together while the parents waited to be processed in court.

Just to be clear: the Obama administration declined to prosecute those who crossed the border illegally, and families were kept together except in those rare instances in which there was compelling evidence that the adult was engaged in child smuggling. When there was separation of a true family, the administration worked to make sure there was quick reunification.

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Because the Trump administration deliberately chooses to criminally prosecute adults who cross the border, and because children cannot accompany their parents into criminal court, the children are taken away from them. Indefinitely. Included in this group are individuals who seek asylum. This week, Trump derisively claimed that border-crossers are told to say “asylum,” like it’s some password to get into a club:

…[they] have professional lawyers… and they tell these people exactly what to say.

At first, Trump’s morally corrupt policy was implemented relatively quietly. But it exploded into public view when the media reported that approximately 2,300 children had not only been separated from their parent(s) but that there was with no clear plan for reunification. With media on the ground and more and more pictures coming out, Trump came under extreme fire from both Democrats and Republicans. On Wednesday of this week — just 48 hours ago — a pissed-off, pouting POTUS, backed into a dark, lonely corner and hit from all sides, signed an Executive Order — one which he’d claimed days earlier he could not issue — to stop his administration’s own abhorrent policy. That feckless bottle of bleach, Ivanka Trump, thanked him:

Trump claimed that he didn’t like the images of kids in detention centers. Not that he didn’t like kids in detention centers, he didn’t like the optics. He’s truly despicable.

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Now everybody wants to know what happens to all the kids — separated by hundreds, even thousands of miles from their parents. Our federal government still has no actionable plan to reunify families. How does a 12-month-old baby tell you the name of his mother? How does a traumatized two-year-old remember which town in Guatemala she comes from? Some parents have already been deported, which not only leaves their children inside of detention centers but now provides no way to reunify them. Just think about this: the US government has absolutely no mechanism to track thousands of kids, infants to teenagers, all ripped from the arms of their parent(s). The US government had no plan to make sure that detention centers for kids would be close to the detention centers for their parent(s). Oh, and can we read that one more time: the US has detention centers for children. Why not just call them Baby Jails? Or Child Tent Cities? Ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio must be so happy.

Our government’s callous indifference to the trauma being inflicted on parents and children is a stain on our country. Worse, our government sent these children literally all over the country without alerting city mayors or state governors or anyone else. Nobody seems to know exactly where all these kids are.

But I know where the children are. In fact, they were brought — in the middle of the night, by the way — to a shelter mere blocks from my apartment in East Harlem in NYC. NY1, a local station here, caught this transfer on video. Kids, their coats over their heads, like a criminal on a perp walk.

Watching this on Wednesday, and knowing there were scared children blocks from me, I wanted to do something. What could I do? Well, I belong to a very strong, active theater community. My idea was to bring children’s theater to this shelter and to give these kids a moment of joy or at least to help them smile. On Thursday, I reached out to my theater community and the response was instantaneous. Rising Sun Performance Company is currently doing a children’s show on Governor’s Island and one of the company members immediately volunteered to translate it into Spanish. Spanish-speaking actors immediately volunteered to perform it. Friends immediately gave me contact information for Spanish-language theater companies in NYC. I am overwhelmed.

Also on Thursday, I went to the office of my City Council member, Diana Ayala, and the office of my NY State Assembly member, Robert Rodriguez, to share with them my idea. The staff at both offices were very receptive and think this is something that we can do. There are obstacles. The Federal government is still not talking to the city. And the city has neither a clear idea of how many kids have been brought here nor a clear idea of where all of them are sheltered. But I do know where some of the kids are: in a privately run shelter on upper Park Avenue in East Harlem. According to the New York Daily News, there may be 239 children detained there. The youngest is just nine months old.

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I have received some comments that these kids need their parents more than some silly kid’s show. I agree. But again, as of today, there is still no plan to reunify any of these families. And I cannot bring their parents to East Harlem. What I can do is small, maybe seemingly insignificant, but I think it’s better than doing nothing. I believe that we must do something to ease their trauma — even if it’s simply to give them an hour of entertainment and hopefully some laughter.

Assembly Member Rodriquez’s office is creating a list of items that need to be donated for the kids, and they’re creating a pen-pal program. Once they get permission, they tell me that we will bring children’s theater to these kids. I know where the children are. I will not let them be forgotten.

And Donald Jackass Trump and his tone-deaf immigrant wife may not care what happens to these innocents, but I believe that most of the country does. We must stand up to these bullies and help any way we can. Please reach out to these East Harlem representatives (see bleow) and let them know you wish to help. Get on their mailing lists. Follow them on Facebook. And if you want to get involved in my idea of theater to soothe the soul, please leave a comment below and I will respond to you directly.

NYS Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez:

NY City Council Member Diana Ayala: