A Message from the US-Mexico Border: Now is the Time to Stand Up for Human Rights

US-Mexico Border. Photo credit: Anthony Albright/Flickr

What is our role in apocalyptic times? If everyone decided enough was enough, historically, would the children have ended up in the gas chambers? And at what point, between when the child was being held in a “camp” and the moment they were put into the gas chamber should society put their own lives on the line to fight back? If it was your child, would you have faith in your community to know when the timing is right?

Coming back from the US-Mexico border recently, after witnessing the oppression and break down of parent after parent and child after child who had been torn apart by US immigration policies, I found myself deeply reflecting on our role as individuals in the darkness that our country is capable of. My message is personal, and it’s written just for you, the reader.

A couple months back I was asked to join a group of attorneys and Spanish-speaking advocates in El Paso, Texas where we were to meet with individuals being detained following family separation. Our purpose was to offer legal guidance to those being detained and to advocate for fair process and justice within the system of Homeland Security. My purpose in going, as a clinical social worker, was to assist in instances of vicarious trauma. I ended up spending most of my time attempting to locate children after they had been removed from their parent(s).

Upon returning home, I received so much support, so many words, and most of that energy was spent focusing on me. It made me uncomfortable and guilty as I processed what I had witnessed. It made me realize that it’s time to have a discussion about our role in the apocalypse, our responsibility today and throughout history.

When I laid my pretty little privileged eyes on the horror of this situation on the border I came back with disturbing details.

Many parents currently – as in today – have no idea where their child is.

Parents just a few days ago were given their children back after months of separation only to be told that unless they signed their own deportation papers they will be separated again, and were.

Individuals seeking asylum are being dressed up in costumes to look and feel like criminals, but with less access to food and legal representation.

Most recently, the legal reps for these children are being told by the Office of Refugee and Resettlement that they no longer need to represent the children because they are being reunited, only to later find out that they were never in fact reunited.

The medical needs of individuals being imprisoned are not being treated, so much so that at one point we had an individual just holding his head and rocking, unable to focus on our interview.

In order to understand the level of oppression being played out by our government here in the land of the free, it’s important to understand the history of rapid deportation, the basics of the asylum process, and the transformation our country undertook from protecting human rights, through the Department of Justice, to protecting our country from terrorism, through what is now the Department of Homeland Security.

In 1996, the rapid removal regime was created. Rapid removal is the process in which our country increases deportation rates at high levels by implementing methods that remove parts of the deportation process, such as access to legal guidance and representation. Asylum officers stepped in to play the role of attorneys.

The asylum process is one we’ve agreed to as a country. You really have to keep that in mind when the current administration and the media define these individuals as criminals. They are not criminals. Why politicians and the media might over and over and over again refer to individuals seeking asylum as criminals might contribute to how we get away with oppression and torture.

The portrayal and labeling of immigrants as criminals is part of the reason we rip children from their parents’ arms, the reason we starve individuals, and why we dress them up like criminals and put them in prisons, the reason we make them camp for two weeks outside of entry points before potentially initiating the asylum process. This is all public information, and the Trump administration is proud of it.

There are strict criteria that needs to be met in order to be awarded asylum. As legal experts and immigrant rights activists, what we are advocating for is access to legal representation and access to fair asylum process, and we are advocating for basic human rights.

If you are afraid to be seen as politically radical maybe consider challenging those that believe it’s radical to want to end the suffering of innocent people.

We must consider the fact that we evolved our immigration system from protecting human rights to managing a war on terrorism in response to 9/11. The system that we are now utilizing is one built for the management of terrorists. I am just going to repeat that, the Department of Homeland Security and ICE were built for the management of terrorists. It’s no wonder with that mentality ICE officers feel comfortable torturing individuals seeking safety. We are treating these families the same way we would treat someone willing to murder thousands of people. Understanding this is a key part of grasping the #abolishice movement.

If we were to travel back to the day after the Trump administration took over, and if that day we asked ourselves, “at what point am I ready to fight?” Would kidnapping and emotionally torturing children have done it for you? And if your answer is “yes, but…” ask yourself what your new standard is. Truly, reader, stop reading this and ask “what would have to happen for me to miss work, to strike, to scream, to speak out?”

Along those same lines, would it make a difference if it was your neighbor Sally who had her child kidnapped by a government, was put in a prison, and had an untreated eye-infection? Would you be organizing on Facebook? “Free Sally! Free Sally!” White-dominant society has been demonizing brown and black people long before we murdered the indigenous and took ownership of their land, long enough to believe it’s quite possible that our implicit biases may contribute to our complacency.

So, what can I do? What can we do?

Research the groups on the ground working directly with these individuals, Annunciation House, RAICES, PODER of Idaho, Idaho Dreamers, and Immigrant Justice Idaho. Find out what their needs are and go from there.

Make noise, ask your coworker, your mom, the person standing next to you at the store if they know the details of what family separation looks like, if they understand the asylum process, if they know the difference between a criminal and an individual seeking asylum.

Write a letter to the President, share it on Facebook, be brave! Stand up! Make a sign that says #abolishice and fast with it for x amount of days at your local ICE office. Turn heads, be angry, don’t be polite. Be unapologetic about the very natural rage we should be feeling in response to the oppression and torture they are putting these families through.

Question your complacency, question your role in all of this, and acknowledge your racism. That’s my answer to the many folks who want to know what in the heck they can do.

Naomi Johnson, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker in Boise, Idaho. Naomi has worked with many populations including survivors of domestic violence, homeless, new Americans, and individuals diagnosed with disabilities. In her spare time, in the evenings and on weekends, she considers herself a social justice advocate with an emphasis on macro issues in our society such as white supremacy, political corruption, and racism.