Our Opinion: Up-close look at cruel immigration policy
The utter inhumanity of the Trump administration's policy toward immigrants hit home in the Berkshires on Sunday when the story of the imminent deportation of a longtime Lenox resident and grandmother ran across the top of the front page of The Berkshire Eagle. Carmen Sarmiento's story is a familiar immigrant story about coming to the United States to build a better life. Too often, since the election of Preisdent Donald Trump, those happy stories are coming to heartbreakingly sad endings.
Mrs. Sarmiento left Bogota, Colombia, in 1990, at a time when a guerrilla war fueled by drug money brought horrific violence to the city and nation. Human Rights Watch reports that hundreds of children died during those violent years. Mrs. Sarmento's 4-year-old son escaped that possible fate when she took him to America, and today, Camilo Bermudez, who grew up in Lenox, operates a translation business in town and coaches youth sports. He has two brothers in the Berkshires, and his mother, who is divorced, has lived a quiet life in Lenox, doting on grandchildren, and enjoying her circle of family and friends.
That life was perhaps permanently disrupted when immigration officials notified her that she has a month to move back to Colombia after 28 years in the United States. Mr. Bermudez confirmed to the Eagle's Larry Parnass that the family entered the U.S. with proper visas. It is possible that the visas expired, but under the policy of past presidential administrations, immigrants with lapsed visas were allowed to stay if they were productive citizens and guilty of no crimes.
That changed under Donald Trump, who has made immigrant-bashing and ugly verbal and Twitter assaults upon blacks, Latinos and Muslims a core part of his appeal to his base of supporters. There was a time early in his administration when the president asserted he was only interested in pursuing "bad hombres" among immigrants, but that has devolved into a transparent anti-immigrant policy personified by the attempt to exile a Lenox grandmother in her 60s.
The administration's policy of separating Central American parents from their children at our southern border, a policy that led to the deaths of two Guatemalan children, has rightly horrified Americans and the world. Attracting less notice are the relentless efforts of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to send immigrants whose papers aren't in order back to their native lands after years of living productively and peacefully in the United States. The Boston Globe, on the same day The Eagle story ran, chronicled several examples of an unresponsive and uncaring ICE tearing families apart in the eastern end of the state. Sadly, stories like that of Mrs. Sarmiento are not uncommon.
Mrs. Sarmiento has family in Bogota, and a successful gofundme campaign has passed its goal in raising money to help with relocation costs. That she has family in her native city gives her an advantage over many immigrants uprooted from the United States, but that will be little consolation to her when the day comes to bid her children and grandchildren goodbye, perhaps never to see them again.
Mr. Bermudez is working with an immigration attorney, but he is not optimistic about reversing the deportation order. If his mother is indeed sent back to a country that is no longer, if it ever was, "home," residents of Lenox and Berkshire County will ask, as have so many across the nation and world, how a nation whose Statue of Liberty once represented its welcoming approach to immigrants could become so cruel and cowardly.
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