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By Glenn Hutchinson
Our government must stop separating families this holiday season.
"Please return my father," an 11-year-old writes. "The only thing I want is him."
Thus begins a boy's letter addressed to his father's deportation officer. He wants his father home for Christmas.
The father, Wally Quijano, is sitting in Wakulla County Detention Center because he is undocumented. So the Quijano family in Bradenton, Fla., has an empty chair at the head of the table.
Like thousands of detainees held in the 250 detention centers across our country, Wally has no criminal record other than his desire to be in the United States.
He overstayed his visa and then came back for his son.
Wally crossed the desert in Texas, near Brownsville, and spent four days and four nights trying to return to his 11-year-old. He nearly died from lack of water and exhaustion.
You may think that only violent criminals are detained and deported, but the facts show otherwise. Since 2009, Congress has required detention centers to detain at least 34,000 immigrants like Wally every day. That mandate costs taxpayers $120 a day per detainee. It's a $2 billion-a-year industry largely run by private corporations.
Although the U.S. Senate passed an immigration bill in June, the House of Representatives has done nothing. So 150,000 more people are away from their families during the holidays.
We, as a country, need to respond to that young boy's letter and the other letters being written daily. A boy goes to sleep at night wanting to see his father again.
And so do many other children. Thousands of kids are forced to live in foster care because of our harsh immigration policy.
This holiday season, let's reunite fathers and mothers with their children because, as Americans, we value family.
Glenn Hutchinson is a writer and teacher in Miami. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright Glenn Hutchinson.
Photo: Flickr user Britt Selvitelle, creative commons licensed.