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Who we are as Americans is being tested as our government tears families apart

Nine month-old Jesus Alberto Lopez stands with his mother, Perla Murillo, as they wait on June 13 with other families to request political asylum in the United States, across the border in Tijuana, Mexico. | AP Photo/Gregory Bull

Sunday was Father’s Day. For me, it was a day to remember my dad, who was taken from me too soon. It was a day to be grateful for my children, and for the wonderful young people they’re becoming. It was a day for family.

But the meaning of Father’s Day changes when the country we call home is ripping apart families at our border. The meaning of the day has to change when children, the same age as my own, are being kept in cages on our soil.

OPINION

Father’s Day, for me, is no longer about my own family. It is about a travesty of cruelty being carried out against other families in our country.

So much has been said about immigrant families crossing our borders, much of it the deeply bigoted and racist rhetoric of our own president. The fundamental truth is this: these are parents and children who seek nothing more than refuge and a better life. They come fleeing war, poverty and injustice, carrying their hopes and their dreams.

They are descendants of a centuries-old legacy of people who we now consider Americans — but who did the exact same thing. They are people like my great-grandfather, who came to America seeking refuge from Russian pogroms. Families like mine exist only because this country decided to take him in.

We can and we must have a debate about real and meaningful immigration reform, but President Donald Trump’s policy of separating immigrant families, taking children from their parents, cannot be our starting point. The path forward has to start with a recognition of the humanity in all of us. It has to start with an understanding that children should never be kept in cages and families should never be torn apart.

What is happening now is heartbreaking, immoral and cruel — and it cannot stand. We cannot let it stand.

When faced with unspeakable injustice in the present, I try to look to the lessons of the past. There is a museum in Skokie called the Illinois Holocaust Museum, brought to life by brave survivors. The museum pays tribute to the families ripped apart and the millions of lives lost under Nazi rule. But it is more than a memorial. The museum teaches us the dangers of silence. It shows us what happens when we look away and turn our backs on those who need us most.

It is the responsibility of every single one of us now — descendants of immigrants and keepers of American values — to speak out. That includes the governor of our state. I’m calling on Bruce Rauner to stand with bipartisan leaders in Illinois to fight against this horrific policy. This is a time for leadership and a moment for all of us who seek to serve the public to truly serve.

The world is watching and history is being written. It isn’t often that we are faced with absolute rights and wrongs, and this is an absolute wrong that goes to the heart of who we are as Americans.

We must come together. We must act.

Chicago businessman J.B. Pritzker is the Democratic candidate for governor in the November general election.

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