Family Separation & Border Crossings

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Nelson Mandela’s words from 1995 have been circling the internet and news outlets as our country has wrestled with immigration and the separation of children from parents at the border.

But there is a larger conversation happening beyond the emotionally-charged images of children and parents. There is something wrong with a system that takes children away from parents who are looking out for the best interest of their child. Some arguments have compared the foster care system to what’s happening at the border, but this issue is a far different conversation from a parent who loses his or her right to take care of a child due to drug abuse or other neglect.

The story of Kelly Williams-Bolar and her fight to stay with her children is the story of another border-crossing, and it’s a much stronger comparison. In 2011, Kelly Williams-Bolar was jailed for taking her two daughters across the district border to a much safer neighborhood to attend school. Her desire for a better life for her two girls not only derailed any opportunity for her to finish her teaching degree, but it also separated her from the very children she was trying to care for.

After her home was burglarized and her fear of her own neighborhood escalated, she used her father’s home address as her children’s main residence in order to enroll them in school. Then, the school district paid private investigators to follow her which led to her court case. Her original sentencing was a criminal felony, two consecutive 5-year sentences, for record tampering (ie false documents). She was to be sent to prison, and her children were to be taken from her. However, soon after her sentencing, an outcry came from across the country, and Governor John Kasich reduced the sentences to misdemeanors. Williams-Bolar ended up only spending 9 days in jail, but her life was never the same.

When describing how it changed her, Williams-Bolar stated, “It’s changed me because I think I was innocent. That’s no longer there. I was naïve to a lot of things. It took something from our family. We will never be the family we once were. We’re stronger. We’re definitely stronger.”

When the system punishes parents who are doing their best to care for their children, maybe we should be asking more questions about what is considered “illegal” and begin developing systems that allow parents to legally act in their child’s best interest. Where should we begin? How about starting with borderless school policies where no parent is afraid that they might go to jail for seeking a high-quality, safe school environment for their child?


Image via Chris Dlugosz