One of the biggest news stories in the United States over the past few weeks has been immigration and the situation at the border. Thousands of children are currently living in cages, separated from their families and are often not allowed to hug the other kids around them. Countless people have made the difficult and sometimes fatal trip to the United States and over the border. For decades, deportations and changing borders have separated families.
For me, it can be overwhelming to first understand and keep up with everything, especially knowing the context of US immigration and border policies. Then, it can be overwhelming to know how to best move forward and call for a more just and humane society.
- Learning From History from ContagiousQueer (July 2nd, 2018)
In some situations, the United States has had a big hand in creating the conditions that result in people fleeing their home countries in search for a better life, as the US government has a long legacy of being both directly and indirectly involved in destabilizing countries and governments around the world to protect US interests. A few years ago, I wrote about how US imperialism has played a big role in the current immigration and border situation and that history hasn’t changed.
In a recent article for Vice, Cole Kazdin wrote about US involvement in Guatemala during the mid 20th century and how the country had decided to end exploitative labor and give back land to indigenous peoples in the 1950s. Those moves would have had negative effects on a few US interests, especially the profits for one particular company: the United Fruit Company. Using the cover of ‘communism’, the CIA worked to help a military coup to overthrow the Guatemala’s democratically elected government and then spent a couple decades training the military as well.
- Big Fruit (Sunday Book Review) by Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, New York Times
Similar US governmental involvements happened in other countries as well, especially those in Central America like Guatemala. There are so many reasons why people are trying to cross the border and immigrate to the United States but constant threats of violence and poverty are two big reasons. Many quoting the poet Warsan Shire to describe the current global migrant situation:
No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.
Children and Families At The Border
For generations, the US government has separated families of all kinds through systemic policies. From removing children from native families and placing them into boarding schools or adopting them out to white families to ripping apart slave families to deporting undocumented parents of young children, the government has had a long history of causing trauma to young children and families. All of that was horrific and the current situation with migrant children at the border is a reminder that the US has a long history of inflicting trauma on families.
Over the past few months, thousands of children have been separated from their parents after crossing the border, many fleeing violence and extreme poverty in their home countries. According to Business Insider and The Washington Post, there are more than 10,000 migrant children being held in custody, many without their parents. Some arrived at the border unaccompanied while others were forcibly removed from their parents after being picked up, although it’s unsure how many were removed from their parents.
- As Gov’t Says 3,000 Migrant Children Are in Custody, Detained Mothers Are Organizing to Find Their Kids from Democracy Now!
Another part of this conversation is that there are stories of immigrant children appearing in immigration court alone, with little to no understanding to what was going on around them. There are children as young as 1-3 years old alone in these court cases too! And many of these children have to fend for themselves in court in front of a judge. Jerry Markon wrote about children in immigration court for The Washington Post several years ago and said in particular that:
Unlike in felony criminal cases in federal court, children charged with violating immigration laws have no right to appointed counsel, even though the government is represented by Department of Homeland Security attorneys.
Here are a few of those heartbreaking stories:
- The Heartbreaking Case Of The 3-Year-Old Boy In Immigration Court by Amber Jamieson, Buzzfeed News
- 1-Year-Old Baby Appears In Immigration Court, Cries Hysterically by Mary Papenfuss, Huffington Post
- It’s Children Against Federal Lawyers in Immigration Court by Fernanda Santos, The New York Times (August 2016)
- 1-Year-Old Shows Up In Immigration Court by Sasha Ingber, NPR
Another horrifying aspect of this situation is that many of the records tying migrant children in custody to their parents have reportedly been deleted. While this apparently did not happen on purpose, it has caused chaos in the attempts to reunify families that were separated at the border and this has played a big part in why children aren’t being reunited with parents. A huge part of this is knowing what children arrived at the border unaccompanied or were separated from family by border and immigration officials.
There have been recent court orders to reunite families that were separated by immigration officials and federal policies but the attempts to follow these court orders show that there were no plans to reunite families when policies were initially put into place. The current administration has asked for deadline extensions for reuniting families, ultimately showing that they have no idea how to reunite immigrant children under 5 with their families. The notion of doing DNA testing to find parents is questionably ethical and complicated at best.
The Horrifying Conditions of Detention Centers and Shelters
For the past few weeks, people have been talking about how there are hundreds of immigrant children being held in fenced cages at different border facilities. Some of the photos that have come out have been from the Obama administration era but many of the current facilities still look the same. And while the Trump administration had planned to detain immigrants at different shelters and centers indefinitely, US District Judge Dolly Gee rejected that notion and declined to amend the Flores Amendment, a move that, if approved, would allow indefinite family detention.
- Big Money As Private Immigrant Jails Boom by John Burnett, NPR
But another part of this is the actual conditions of immigration shelters and detention centers. There have been many who have recounted their experiences visiting these shelters and centers, including Planned Parenthood leader Dawn Laguens and Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley. While both Laguens and Merkley saw only a fraction of what was going on, there have been many reports coming out of detention centers and shelters regarding abuse, neglect, and mistreatment of immigrants at the hands of government officials and guards running the centers. Here are just a few stories regarding this horrific issue:
- “No one will believe baboon complaints” – Racist abuse in immigration detention on the rise in Trump era, report says by Aída Chávez, The Intercept
- Handcuffs, assaults, and drugs called ‘vitamins’: Children allege grave abuse at migrant detention facilities by Blake Ellis, Melanie Hicken, and Bob Ortega, CNN Investigates
- ACLU report: Records claim border agents neglected, abused migrant kids from CBS News
- Pregnant detainees say they were denied adequate medical care by Aris Folley, The Hill
- Pregnant Women Say They Miscarried In Immigration Detention And Didn’t Get The Care They Needed by Ema O’Conner and Nidhi Prakash, Buzzfeed News
- Experts say psychological impact of family separation on par with abuse by Steve Turnham, ABC News
What To Do
It can be overwhelming to know what to do to compact the injustices currently happening at the border and at the detention centers and shelters around the United States. One thing to do is keep up with the news and have conversations with family and friends. For white folks like me, this can also be explaining the history and context of why people are fleeing their home countries and trying to migrate to the United States.
It can also be talking with our white family and friends about how indigenous tribes and people have been on this land much longer than the borders and for many indigenous people, the borders of the US frequently passed over them and their ancestral land. The book Border Patrol Nation by Todd Miller is a great resource about the militarization of the US/Mexico border.
Another is to call on the companies that are making money off of the detention centers, as companies make money off of beds being filled in these centers, which in turn helps to influence immigration policies so more people are in these centers. Among other things, companies will make money off of immigrants calling family members and there have even been reports of some centers limiting the amount of food given to those in the centers so they have to buy something from the commissary.
Another concrete action is to donate money, resources, and skills/talents to local and national organizations on the front lines of these issues. If you have special skills or abilities (i.e. you’re bilingual and can help translate or you’re a lawyer) and have the time, see if any local organizations need help. But if you aren’t able to help that way, Parker Molloy set up the site ireallydocare.com , which highlights several great groups currently helping immigrants. Some others include:
- The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Educational and Legal Services (RAICES)
- Border Angels
- The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC)
You can also join rallies when they happen or community organizations in your town. The Sanctuary Movement, for example, is an interfaith movement in the US that works on faith based actions to help immigrants. There are a few local chapters around the US, including in San Francisco, Portland, OR, Salt Lake City, and Philadelphia. There’s also organizations like the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Washington state; MPower Change, a Muslim grassroots movement that has campaigns and events around the county; and Make The Road New York, a nonprofit that works on education, community organizing, legal and social services, and policy innovation.
- How To Help Immigrant Children Separated From Their Families at The Border by Cady Drell, Marie Claire
All of this can be incredibly overwhelming, especially with more and more stuff going on. But we cannot be complacent in the face of the horrors currently happening at the border. There are so many ways to get involved in this issue, including calling your representatives in Congress and local elected officials.