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We pride ourselves on being a moral nation. What do we do when our government enacts an immoral policy? How can we stand by while our government separates children, including babies and toddlers, from parents at our border, often after arduous journeys, seeking a better life for their families?

Isn’t that the fundamental basis of the American Dream?

Judges have ruled this inhumane policy cannot stand, but most of the children are still apart from their parents, terrified and traumatized. The parents are rightly distraught.

The horrified reaction to this policy has been loud and bipartisan. Former First Lady Laura Bush wrote, “I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart. … Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children. … These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps … now considered one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history.”

Mrs. Bush is not alone. Citizens, politicians religious and foreign leaders have spoken out against the morally-bankrupt policy. Some have described it as state-sponsored child abuse. Seeing a 1-year-old bawling alone in court because the government insisted children should not be accompanied at their hearings, makes one agree with the description.

Former state Assembly Republican Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, a life-long conservative, asks, “Do we need to separate children from their parents to stem the tide of illegal immigration?” She answers, “Unequivocally no. Ends do not justify means.”

The official, tone-deaf and mind-boggling response from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was that the ends do justify the means. Inconceivably, Mr. Sessions turned to the Bible as the authority for the policy, citing Paul’s epistle to the Romans.

Religious leaders from all faiths were upset by the biblical justification for a policy that could hardly be described as loving. A verse in that same epistle proclaims, “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Love is the fulfillment of the law.”

For me, the Book of Luke has the most humanitarian quote about children: “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for such is the Kingdom of God.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the policy of separating children from their parents is “contrary to the values in this country,” and former First Lady Michelle Obama agreed that “sometimes truth transcends party.”

Coupled with the inhumanity of the actions has been what looks like utter incompetence. The parents at the border received no receipts for their children. Mounting evidence suggests the government does not know which children belong with which parents.

We have always been a moral beacon to the world. Dag Hammarskjold, former Secretary General of the United Nations said, “In our era, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action.”

We need to act, individually and collectively, writing, speaking, marching, rallying, lobbying, voting, protesting, making our voices heard.

After the German atrocities of World War II, it was said, “Never again.” Engaged citizens at all levels coming together is the only way to protect and sustain the values of our country and ensure inhumanity to fellow humans truly happens never again.

We must reunite all the detained children with their parents. Going forward, we must ensure we have policies that prevent this from ever happening again. We must protect the values of our country and remember what truly makes us great.

Government is all of us. We are the United States of America. We are a democracy. We the people must do this.

Bill Cirone is the former Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools, now retired.

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