In the last days of deadline, poring over pages, unexpected confluences began to take shape between stories in this issue and stories outside the magazine—stories that seemed unrelated at first but eventually fell into a kind of thematic syncopation.
I couldn’t help but see a link between the issue’s cover story—Leslie Jamison’s remarkable essay about Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships, which exhibits keepsakes from lost loves—and stories about the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown. I had help connecting the dots. On the museum’s website, you can browse some of the collection, scroll through the objects, read their backstories. You’re reminded of the baffling idiosyncrasies of people in love, and of the resilience of the brokenhearted. Stories range from schmaltzy to venting to pithy to bitterly comical. A few even sound victorious in their sense of closure and good riddance. And while most of the testimonials are about imploded romances, a few offer more oblique examples of lost loves, arguably of a crueler kind: a mother giving up; a godmother vanishing; a parent lamenting a child’s ruined innocence.
A click or two later, I was reading feeds, off to other sites, and landed on the story of Syed Jamal, a fifty-five-year-old chemistry professor from Lawrence, Kansas (originally from Bangladesh, here thirty years), who, having overstayed his visa, was taken by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents outside his home as he was taking his daughter to school. Then, another story: an ICE raid in Highland Park, New Jersey, where Harry Pangemanan—a Christian Indonesian who’d fled religious persecution in 1993—was dropping his daughter off at school when ICE agents attempted to arrest him. (Pangemanan found refuge in a local church.) Morning routines, errands, commutes: They’ve become laced with risk. A Virginia mother. A Connecticut father. Neighbors, taxpayers, citizens in spirit if not by law.
These examples may seem emotionally overcharged, but it’s also fair to say that this national immigration dragnet is having an alarming effect on families. According to a 2017 report by the American Immigration Council, the rate at which undocumented immigrants without criminal records are being seized may well result in a public-health crisis among children, based purely on the psychological impact of breaking these families apart.
What would the mementos of these ruptures be? How many thousands of pieces would it take, consolidated in one space, to communicate the scale of such an inhumane policy? It’s easy to imagine letters from deported parents piling up; trinkets sent from impossible distances.
Whatever these objects may be, their accumulation would amplify the same question asked by another of this issue’s features: Justine van der Leun’s dual profile of an undocumented mother named Rosi and her reluctant lawyer, who, despite Rosi’s legitimate fear of returning to El Salvador, has little faith in her actually receiving asylum. “What was the purpose,” van der Leun asks, “of deporting Rosi? If one purpose was to punish her for her past transgression of crossing a river from one land mass to the other, was the purpose also to punish a very young American child by separating her from her mother?”
Multiply that question by the millions. Take the answer to its extreme. If every kid were to offer a token of her punishment, there’s no telling what it would take to hold them.