Guest Opinions

I was taken from the only family I'd ever known. I'm still haunted by that trauma.

Child detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas, June 18, 2014.
Child detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas, June 18, 2014. Eric Gay

Imagine, being 2 and a half years old and sitting in your living room with your parents and siblings. A knock at the door, and then an adult you don’t know grabs you and starts dragging you out of the house. You fight with all your might, pulling against this stranger taking you away from your family. Your siblings even grab an arm and pull with you. You scream out for your mommy, but she just sits there, helplessly watching you lose the fight of your life to stay with her. And then your family is gone. You are all alone in a strange building with no one to console you as you cry uncontrollably.

This happened to me. You see, I was adopted and taken away from the Texas foster home where I had lived since birth. That was my family and they were my world. Although this happened to me almost 50 years ago, I remember the scene as vividly as if it were yesterday. It hurt me. It still hurts me. And it damaged me in ways that have taken me a lifetime to understand.

I was first diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder when I was in my mid-30s. Although I am a veteran, nothing in my service history caused my PTSD. As I went through counseling to understand my self-destructive behavior, my failing marriage and my general self-loathing, my counselor worked with me to tease out the root of my PTSD. It was an incredibly painful process, working through memories of my youth, until we landed squarely on that day, right before Thanksgiving in 1970 in a non-descript Amarillo, Texas, neighborhood. And I cried. I cried, and cried and cried. A grown man, military veteran, Krav Maga instructor, tough guy. I just cried.

Then, I started to heal. I started to understand that this wasn’t my fault. I began what was a very long journey to control my drinking, which had been motivated by my desire to self-medicate. I became better at relationships, more focused on my profession, and less impulsive. All of this took a decade and occurred many decades after I was taken from the people that were, to me, my family.

I share this story because I want people to understand how damaging it is to have a child taken away forcibly from her parents. With no understanding of what is happening, a total feeling of abandonment and aloneness, and absolute sheer terror at being separated from the ones you love. It leaves a lasting, lifelong effect that is very difficult to overcome. And this from a lucky one: I went to a good home and have a fantastic mother who loves me now and loved me then. I got an education, joined the military, became an attorney and am now an educator. With all of that going for me, I still face the trauma of that day regularly.

Imagine, then, what a child with nothing more than the dream of a better life is going through, and will go through during her lifetime. Separating families is wrong. It hurts the adults, but more importantly and urgently, it causes lifelong damage to the children who are taken.

There are better ways to enforce our immigration and asylum laws that do not cause such lifelong traumatic injury to children. We should be demanding that our federal government seek better solutions in our name. A people that intentionally harms children is not who we, as Americans, are or should aspire to be.

Michael Satz is a resident of Boise and an administrator and faculty member at the University of Idaho Boise. He served 10 years as an officer in the U.S. Navy and practiced law in Texas.