Over the weekend, I shared a “fake news” photo on one of my social media feeds. I did so not to promote a fake narrative, but instead did it because the image drove home the very real issue of children being separated from their families at our nation’s southern border.
The photo of a young boy locked in what appeared to be a cage moved me. Every time I saw the photo, all I could see was my son. Under other circumstances, my Guatemalan-born son could have been that young boy. And I couldn’t shake that thinking with every share of the photo offered on Facebook, no matter what Snopes said about its authenticity.
My argument was that it was not a fake news story. The issue of family separation is very real. I could have shared the Washington Post story of the observations of a doctor visiting the camps. I could have shared the audio recording of caged children crying for their mothers. I shared what I shared because the depiction connected with me, and made the current situation all the more real and relevant to me.
Thousands of children are now being housed in migrant camps, separated from their parents and other family members. These kids are not in those camps by choice, but largely are there because their families were fleeing horrifying violence in their home countries and thus are seeking asylum in the United States. The image may not have been a documentary photo, but it was — and remains — an accurate depiction of what some kids are now enduring. And yes, it pulls at the heartstrings.
As I engaged in arguments with friends on the photo and the underlying socio-political issues, I was quick to note this is not a problem solely of President Donald J. Trump’s making. The same people who condemn Trump today are the same who supported President Bill Clinton sending in individuals armed with automatic rifles to rip a small boy from Florida family to return him to Cuba. Photos of incarcerated children used recently to condemn Trump were actually taken years earlier during the Obama administration. Immigration policy is an issue we have struggled with for decades, regardless of which political party held the White House or ruled the Congress.
The response I saw highlighted the enormous bubbles in which we all currently live, and why we, as a society, seem incapable of having any meaningful political discourse. One one side, I had friends from different corners of my life use the opportunity to condemn Trump and all those who support him. They used the “f” bomb, a word that is now becoming far too common and accepted in our political “debates.” They wished Trump and those who supported him dead.
On the other side, other friends were demanding folks recognize the many successes of President Trump They accused those seeking sanctuary in the United States of being criminals who deserved to be detained, whether for illegal entry or for potential crimes they might commit once in the United States. And they attacked their opponents for putting politics over country and for not practicing in their daily lives the policy they were preaching. Some even argued the whole story was “fake news” and kids aren’t being separated from their families and there are no such detention camps along the border.
The discussion got ugly, and it continued for days. It reminded me why I typically choose not to get political on my Facebook page.
In a letter to William Roscoe in 1820, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “for here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” For years, I toiled at a newspaper that had that quote in its masthead. The remark means even more to me today than it did back then.
None of us should be afraid of truth. In my Facebook debate on immigrant detention, I was open to any truths even the most hardened of opponents would bring forward. I’d review the pieces they shared from Fox News, from the Blaze, even from Breitbart to better understand the truth as they saw fit.
But at some point, reason does need to take hold. One vocal critic offered Alex Jones as her proof that the migrant child detention centers do not exist. No, a noted conspiracy theorist who has touted for years that the Sandy Hook school shooting never happened will not sway me. I will listen to reputable journalists, regardless of outlet, who seek to ferret out the truth, though. But I draw a line between those who are journalists and those who are news entertainment. I may love to listen to Sean Hannity on the radio when I’m driving, but I’ll remind people that even Hannity acknowledges he isn’t a true journalist.
The photo I shared may not have been journalistic documentation of an actual detainee at the border, but I will maintain it is a depiction of the current state of immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border. I used the photo as a symbol of my frustration with the situation, a situation driven in part by the knowledge that kids who look just like my son, kids who could have been born in the same village as my son, kids who could actually be related by blood to my son, are being taken from their parents and housed in facilities that are far more like prisons than they are like summer camps.
A well-researched article in The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal would never have driven the sort of dialogue on immigration policy that that one photo did. I knew the truth, and even knowing it and knowing the anger and vitriol its use has triggered from many I consider friends, I’d post it again.