Why I am donating the proceeds of the sale of my novel Del Rio to Justice in Motion

In April 2018 when I was still living on my ranch in the California foothills and working on my novel Del Rio, the Trump Administration initiated its “zero tolerance” immigration policy, a policy that resulted in unspeakable cruelty to children and families torn apart at the border. I suddenly found myself living in a country that had once stood guard against human rights violations around the globe, watching in horror as it became one of the worst perpetrators of those violations.

As a Jewish woman, I grew up around a number of Holocaust survivors, some of whom had been ripped from their parents’ arms, as well. The words Never Again, which I heard often as a child, rang in my ears. Never Again means never again for anyone. It means I have a responsibility to stand up for the defenseless, to address the cruelty.

As a result of the Trump administration’s brutal policy, children had no contact with their parents for weeks or months, if at all, if ever again. They slept on concrete floors, with older children, some only six or seven, taking care of the infants, armed guards all around. What these children were subjected to is the stuff of nightmares, and in a certain way appears in the pages of my book.

My novel Del Rio is set in a fictional town in California’s Central Valley made up largely of immigrant farmworkers. It is a town like towns immigrants might find themselves in if they are successful in crossing the border, a town where they will do all the hard agricultural work that keeps this country fed. Living near a town like the one I created in my novel, I often heard stories about labor abuses, child labor, labor trafficking, human trafficking, stories that swirled in the air like dust from the wheels of farm vehicles. I made those rumors and tales part of my novel. I knew that I owed the community that I was using as inspiration for my book something, but what I could do to help? How could I give back?

Then on one of those COVID lockdown nights, I was curled up on the sofa, remote in hand, clicking channels, trying to decide whether to give up or stream a video, when I happened to hear an interview with Cathleen Caron of Justice in Motion that stopped me in my tracks and gave me the ‘ah ha’ moment Oprah made so famous.

Here is a quote from Justice in Motion’s own literature, which will give you an idea of what so inspired me:

 “The U.S. government forcibly separated over 4,000 parents from their children at the U.S. border. Supported by information collected by Justice in Motion, the ACLU successfully sued the government to end the horrific Family Separation policy. But the government had already deported many of these parents without their children and had no plan to reunite these families. Justice in Motion is one of four civil society organizations charged with accomplishing that vital work. . . Our Defenders conduct on-the-ground investigations to find parents deported without their children and put them in contact with U.S. lawyers working on the litigation. That way, we can ensure they have access to any available paths to reunification.”

Listening to Ms. Caron talk about the extremely difficult, compassionate work her organization is doing to reunite children with their families, gave me an idea. I could donate the proceeds of my novel Del Rio to Justice in Motion. I could finally do something. And just like my protagonist Callie in Del Rio realizes she has more power than she thinks, I, too, realized the same thing. I had a voice, and I could use it.

As a result, that is exactly what I am doing. Every single dollar of net proceeds Del Rio earns goes to Justice in Motion to help reunite children with their families.

I can’t express how overjoyed I am that President Biden has signed an executive order that starts a family reunification process, that he has made good on a campaign promise near and dear to my heart. I am also greatly encouraged that Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden’s nominee for Attorney General, recognizes this huge moral failing, as well, and that in his confirmation hearing he told the senators that “I think that the policy [child separation] was shameful. I can’t imagine anything worse than tearing parents from their children. And we will provide all the cooperation we possibly can.”

I feel such relief that new, enlightened policies are being implemented; there is hope once again for my country to live up to its highest ideals. Still, it’s important to remember that around six hundred children cannot be located or identified. Unless we support grassroots organizations that put boots on the ground to locate separated families, these children will be lost to them forever.

I am so grateful to Justice in Motion for the work they do and for giving me this opportunity to help.

For an inside look at what it takes to Justice in Motion to find families, watch “The Unreachables,” a short documentary produced by VICE News on Showtime.

Jane Rosenthal

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