It is not difficult to imagine that some of these immigrant children will not be reunited with their families anytime soon — if ever — because of a disastrous, unconscionable policy.
“Sorry, we don’t keep records.” This was the response when I reached out to the Indian government for details on my adoption more than 30 years ago.
It’s the same story I’ve heard my entire life: “Shasti, the Indian government did not keep records at that time. There is no way to track down your birthparents. All I can tell you is that they wanted a better life for you.”
What I know for certain is that in 1984, in the city of Kolkata, India, a “young unmarried woman” gave birth to me and promptly left without me. Soon after, I was adopted by a single white woman here in the United States. Beyond that, my entire cultural identity, my entire origin story, was encapsulated by the words: “Sorry, the government did not keep records.”
This resonance came to me when I went to McAllen, Texas, on June 28, to volunteer for the humanitarian crisis on the border. Every day, upward of 200 people detained by border officials are dropped off at the local bus station. The asylum-seekers, held for five to 10 days or longer, are then released with nothing but the clothes they are wearing, shoes and a government ankle bracelet to track them.
Just an hour away in Brownsville is the infamous Casa Padre Immigrant Shelter, now home to as many as 1,500 children taken away from their parents.
I was expecting some kind of fortress, surrounded by barbed wire and security guards, set apart from local society. Instead, I saw the former Walmart near a gas station and fast-food restaurants where folks were grabbing fried chicken from a drive-thru.
The contrast was overwhelming. Here in a small town were people going about their daily lives, while in Casa Padre 1,500 or more children were without their families, not knowing when, how (or perhaps if) they would be reunited. The New York Times recently reported that officials of the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that initial records linking children to their parents had been destroyed “in hundreds of cases.”
It is not difficult to imagine that some of these children will not be reunited with their families anytime soon — if ever — because of a disastrous, unconscionable policy without process, leaving children separated without documents. What will we tell these children when they’re 30 years old and wondering what happened to them during their first years of life?
The circumstances are different, but my experience may be similar to what these children may someday experience. I was adopted by a loving family; some of these immigrant children have reportedly already moved into foster care. But all the love these children will receive cannot fully heal the trauma I recognize as my own. I believe my birth mother wanted a better life for me, but even 30 years later, it is difficult not to feel on a profound level that I was abandoned because of a fundamental flaw within myself.
“Sorry, we don’t keep records.” The same phrase I heard is now the sentiment from our government to the mothers, fathers, sons and daughters desperately asking about their loved ones. The very same loved ones border officials, supposedly acting on our behalf, were callously separating.
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Similarly, for those children who are never reunited, because of government record keeping, they will now live with that same lifelong trauma. They will be forever severed not just from their parents, but from their identity, culture and ancestry.
To these children, I’m sorry my adopted U.S. government is not keeping records. Your parents did want a better life for you, but they wanted that life with you. As I looked into your eyes, while I was in McAllen, I didn’t expect to see my own pain mirrored in yours. But here we are.
I am not your mother, this country is not your mother, but I will fight my damndest to ensure that you will not make this journey alone.
And we will have to do it, because we did not keep records.