Starting in the 1830s and 1840s, some American abolitionists advocated for a tactic called moral suasion, arguing that surely white Americans who truly knew about the full horrors of slavery would change their minds and fight for its abolition. They tried to promote fellow feeling, telling stories of separation and sexual abuse to play upon Victorian idealization of family togetherness and womanly virtue. This worked for some listeners, but not for others, whose racism and complicity in the system deadened any natural empathy they might have had. Ending slavery took a war.
But no extremely moving information about John Kelly’s or Mike Pence’s families from decades ago will make immigration hawks rethink the way they perceive a story like the one about ICE taking an 18-month-old child from his Honduran mother-telling her to strap him into a car seat, and then driving away without allowing her to say goodbye. From an immigration hawk’s point of view, that’s not anyone like their mother, not anyone like their family.
The chasm between the life and experiences of a white American, even one who’s descended from desperate immigrants of decades past, and the life of this Honduran mother is the entire point of racist anti-immigration thought. Diminishment of the human qualities of entering immigrants (“unskilled” and “unmodern” immigrants coming from “shithole” countries) reinforces the distance between the two. People who support the Trump administration’s immigration policies want fewer Honduran mothers and their 18-month-olds to enter the country. If you start from this position, nothing you hear about illiterate Germans coming to the United States in the 19 century will change your mind.