Orphans

This Country Needs a More Adequate Mirror

When Mr. Cancer came calling a couple of years ago, it lit a fire under my intent to write about how an American Indian dropout becomes a professor. I set out in what I perceived to be a race with my own mortality to get it done, only to smack into the most difficult writing task I ever encountered in a lifetime of writing. I won the race, only to run into the most difficult publishing task I ever encountered after managing to survive two jobs under the dictum “publish or perish.”

What the hell — the story’s done and publishing it will be my family’s problem if I don’t get it done. They could help with that while nobody but me could write it.

The writing was hard because the story was painful and I had stuffed much of the pain down the memory hole. The simple fact of growing up without a father or a mother became less simple and my gratitude to my maternal grandparents grew larger, as did the guilt over my failure to express it adequately when I had the chance.

The word “orphan” had a different ring, though I was not orphaned in the biological sense. It’s that ring demanding that I raise my voice against my government’s policy of creating orphans on our southern border for the stated purpose of scaring away other families also fleeing from the drug cartel turf wars. If the U.S. is not scary enough, they will think we are a refuge from violent harm or something — can’t have that, don’t you know?

The cartels are often better armed than the governments that sometimes try to contain them when not accepting retainers to look the other way. I, too, would flee.

If you live in an urban barrio and you have a boy child, he is destined to be first recruited and, if that fails, conscripted by the cartels. If you have a girl child, she will find providing sexual services for the combatants to be the most attractive of dismal choices and, if she fails to see that, girls can sometimes be conscripted as well.

I, too, would flee.

If your children are orphaned by the U.S. government when you are sent back to take your chances, they will be left in a social safety net that offers the promise of survival and a chance at education. If they avoid deportation with the help of people on this side who care. What happens when they turn 18 will depend on what political party is in charge. Deportation back to a nation that is only a distant memory is possible. A chance to become a U.S. citizen is possible.

Still, “orphan” is a hard word and I’m not proud of our government creating hard choices. It’s not Sophie’s Choice because certain death is not behind one of the choices — merely a high risk of death — and parents are not usually forced to choose one child over another, but it’s still ugly and unnecessary.

On May 9, National Public Radio aired a report by Jane Arraf on another place where orphans are being created knowingly and wholesale. The Yazidi women captured by ISIS are being returned to what is left of their homes in Iraq now that the “caliphate” has been stripped of its real estate if not its intentions.

These women have been forced to provide sexual services to ISIS fighters for five years with no access to birth control and the predictable result was serial pregnancies, often with different fathers as one fighter was killed and his “bride” passed on to another.

The conservative religious leaders on the Iraqi border issued an unprecedented decree that the approximately 3,500 Yazidi women taken for sex slaves would be welcomed back. This is a radical departure from the usual treatment accorded rape victims among both the Arabs and the Kurds in those rural areas.

The children of rape, however, are not welcome. If the mothers try to return with the children, they will not be welcome. Arraf reported the bleak reality:

And while some women who give up their children in Syria are told they will be able to visit them or be reunited later, it isn’t true. Once the mothers cross over to Iraq, they are not allowed by security forces to cross the border again. Without resources, they are almost completely dependent on their families in Iraq, who do not want them to bring the children back.

One root of the problem is that only a child of two Yazidis is considered to be Yazidi. And by Iraqi law, these children are sired by Muslims and so they are Muslims. Each community has a reason to shun them in addition to the stigma of being the offspring of rape.

The number of children being orphaned was estimated at 1,000 back in 2014. It had to be a multiple of that by the time ISIS lost its real estate and most of the women were free to go if they had somewhere to go.

Orphan. It’s a cold word. A mean word. I was rescued from it by grandparents but even the near miss leaves pain that I had buried for many years.

These Yazidis, these Muslim Arabs, how can they knowingly cause such pain to children who have done nothing to deserve it?

As we write our checks to UNICEF to support the orphanages newly sprung up on the Iraqi-Syrian frontier, let us blame fundamentalist religions. Let us blame lack of education.

And then, and then, we must not forget to ask:

Mr. Trump, what is your excuse?

This post was previously published on Medium and is republished here with permission from the author.

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