The United States was founded on the aspirational vision of “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.” Today it is more important than ever to keep our eyes wide open and reconcile our deeply flawed history of slavery, genocide, and gender inequity with the freedom and opportunities the Constitution sets forth for all people. There is no room to hide from the painful reality of the inequities faced by immigrants, communities of color, women, and others. We must accept the responsibility for where we are now and how we will proceed as families, neighbors, communities, and a country.
Values drive decisions and affect lives. Ascend at the Aspen Institute has been deeply concerned about the separation of more than 2,300 immigrant children from their parents, many of whom are fleeing violence and persecution in their native countries. As a policy program of the Aspen Institute with a focus on creating an intergenerational cycle of opportunity for all families, we believe it is not just a legal imperative to recognize families holistically – it is a moral one.
At the heart of Ascend’s nearly eight years of work are two-generation (2Gen) approaches; these approaches provide opportunities for and meet the needs of children and their parents together. The 2Gen approach helps children and families get the education and workforce training, social supports like parenting skills, and health care they need to create a legacy of economic stability and overall well-being that passes from one generation to the next. Across the country, communities and states are embracing this approach in departments of human services, public health, and education, among others, to change the trajectory of families’ lives.
While our immigration policies require a significant bipartisan re-haul and re-imagining, our immigrant families deserve and need a 2Gen approach. As our Network Partner and Ascend Fellow Katie Albright noted earlier this week, the impact of separating children from their parents can include severe, complex developmental trauma and toxic stress that will stay with these children for their lifetimes. The impact on their parents and caregivers is profound. Jackie Bezos, co-founder and president of the Bezos Family Foundation, has also spoken about the impact these actions will have across generations. Another Ascend partner, Dr. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, spoke out about the long-term implications for children’s health as well as how dangerously close we are to committing child abuse with the continuing effects of the ‘zero tolerance’ policy.
As our new CEO Dan Porterfield shared at the opening of Spotlight Health on June 22, “We all believe fundamentally in the dignity and value of each and every person. All humans are equal, and no one is more human than anyone else. We all deserve the opportunity to develop our talents, to express our faiths, to care for our children and our elders, and to flourish.” We stand with the members of our 250-strong Ascend Network and the Ascend Fellows in border states and beyond to ensure families are reunited and supported in the weeks and months ahead.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail in April 1963. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Perhaps these words should become part of a more modern Declaration of Independence – and Humanity.
Anne B. Mosle