On Wednesday, Immigrations and Custom Enforcement raided food processing plants in Mississippi and arrested 680 people who were working without documentation. Immediately, journalists rightly sprang into action. It was the first day of school and children were coming home to empty homes because their parents and guardians were taken from. (ICE released 300 people on Thursday.)
One 11-year-old girl was interviewed — if you can call it that — by a Mississippi CNN affiliate about her missing parents. “Government, please put your heart — let my parents be free with everybody else, please,” the girl says while choking back tears. I can’t watch her interview without pausing because I start crying, too.
I cannot look at one more photo of a sobbing, utterly terrified child realizing that the government took their parent(s) while they endured the first day of school. I cannot look at the pain on their faces as they wonder where their parent(s) may be and if they are even going to come back.
I cannot look at these photos anymore because you shouldn’t need to see their red, splotchy, and horrified faces to feel something. To know that what is happening to their families is morally wrong. To know that we are all complicit in their and their families’ pain.
I think there are two schools of thought here. First, journalism is supposedly the first record of history; we should have access to these photos. I think some people desperately need Latinx to be humanized because they’ve never met any of us and lack the ability to empathize with someone who doesn’t have an 401(k). I think some people lack the imagination to understand the lengths some people will go for their families because the hardest they’ve ever had to work for their family is to drive to a second supermarket for the preferred brand of diapers. They’ve never crossed borders and risked their lives to provide for people. They aren’t descendants of people who watched the border cross their land, so they don’t feel the need to interrogate the motivations of working without papers. I think these kind of people only understand pain when seeing those children sobbing on camera.
But I think there’s also this other, more important part of this puzzle: You shouldn’t need to see photos of children (minors!) to know this is wrong. Are our imaginations so lacking after a decade of Marvel and decades of Mitch McConnell and failure of immigration policy that we need to see their pain to feel bad? I’m not sure I believe that photographers should even be making these pictures.
My heart breaks every day without those seeing those photos. Yours should, too.