Sunday, June 10, 2018
American detention camps
This time, the worst of the camps hold children forcibly torn from their parents when the families present themselves at the southern border seeking asylum. It is perfectly legal to seek sanctuary in this way, but now, as an officially sanctioned means of “deterrent” to other (non-white) refugees who might try to avail themselves of this humanitarian law, children as young as five months are ripped from their parents arms and sent to detention centers. I am using inflammatory language intentionally, and yet it doesn't even begin to capture the trauma. In some instances, parents who presented themselves for asylum were told that their children were being taken to bathe, and they waited and waited with the realization slowly dawning that their children would not be returned. It's a chilling echo of the concentration camps in Nazi Germany, where parents were told their children were being sent to "showers." At the US border, some refugees could hear their babies crying in a distant room. They never had a chance to say goodbye. They don't know where their children are as they, too, are imprisoned in detention centers, usually several states away. The children have no idea what is happening to them.
And nor do we. These camps are privately run, which means they receive government money for each additional child who is warehoused. By the end of May, more than 10,000 unaccompanied minors were in custody. We the taxpaying citizens are underwriting this atrocity. The fact that these detention centers are private enterprises also means they claim the right to refuse entry to journalists and even to elected officials seeking to inspect the condition of the premises. A senator from Oregon, Jeff Merkley, tried to enter one of the camps, a former Walmart store whose doors are now chained and padlocked and whose windows are painted opaque black. He wanted to check on how the children in detention were being treated. He was turned away. What are they hiding? How are those defenseless children being cared for? We don't even know who is tasked with guarding them? Did anyone do background checks on the men with guns who have daily access to the children?
A Latina journalist on Joy Reid’s show this morning made a piercing observation. I'm paraphrasing. In essence, she said:
We detained Native Americans because we called them savages.
We detained Africans because we called them property.
We detained Japanese because we called them infiltrators and untrustworthy.
We detained Muslims because we called them terrorists.
Now we are detaining Latin Americans because we call them animals.
It's the good old American way.
And it's happening even in sanctuary cities like my own. Last week in New York City an Ecuadorean restaurant worker delivered a pizza to Fort Hamilton US Army base in Brooklyn. He had delivered food to the base many times before but this time, after they took the pizza, they arrested Pablo Villavicencio and placed him in detention. Here's the thing: His wife is a citizen. His two children are citizens. And his own permanent residency paperwork has been legally filed and is pending.
I recently saw a quote on a friend's Facebook page:
What would you have been doing in Germany as Hitler came to power?
You're doing it now.