Sunday, June 10, 2018

American detention camps

We are once again talking about detention camps on the American landscape. We condemn the rounding up, detention, and murder of Jews in Nazi Germany during World War II, but we fail to assess what's happening within our own borders.

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.

The city was in an uproar, with #FreePablo demonstrations outside the ICE detention center where the pizza delivery man was being held. In response, the court has ordered a stay of his deportation while his immigration case is adjudicated. He is still in detention, however, and no longer able to contribute to the welfare of his family.

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.


20 comments:

  1. Profound! What am I doing. Nothing much, but wringing my hands in helplessness. LN

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    1. LN, I once heard a Tibetan monk say that to change the world we have only to change ourselves. It felt incredibly freeing to me, to think that to help nudge the world in a positive direction I had only to attend to my own heart and mind, and to act with integrity in the spaces where I am present. Your awareness changes your surroundings. The conversations you have with people are change making, even if you don’t see it in the moment. The way you vote come the next election. Activism is not always public or loud. Even our despair is useful. We do what we can, as we can.

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  2. WTF!

    Detention camps. Again. Do we never learn?

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  3. You said it all. There's nothing more to be said.
    What am I doing? Despairing. Which helps no one.

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    1. Mary, you are doing so much. All the time. Don’t underestimate the power of having raised such good and conscious people, whose goodness and awareness ripple out into the world. Also you write powerfully about the injustices in our world, in a way that is accessible to some who might not hear it any other way, but can hear it the way you frame it, because you are you. So you don't write about politics every day. Who could? And who would hear it if the drumbeat never ceased. You write what moves you. And those posts that are about your every day life are part of the resistance too. You show us life as it can be lived when we love and care for one another. You are a beacon in this world. And you accomplish that simply by being you.

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  4. I'm constantly signing petitions and writing letters to no avail, it seems. In Nazi Germany? I would have been considered defective and killed as a newborn, as so many were.

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    1. e, your comment stops me cold.

      Thank you for the petitions you sign and the letters you write. I do believe you are moving the needle in essential ways. I hope you're feeling better?

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  5. "What would you have been doing in Germany as Hitler came to power?
    You're doing it now."

    That powerful sobering thought can guide us for the rest of our lives to do what we can wherever we are. No action too small. I don't have children of my own, and the strongest actions in my life have been taken in the defense and care for children. You've given me much to feel and think about regarding the more than 10,000 children in detention camps. Until today, I was not aware of the numbers.

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    1. AM, you are so right, no action is too small. All action moves us forward and a collection of small actions by many people can be profound. I, too, did not know the number of children being held until now. Apparently those numbers are increasing exponentially every day.

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  6. I keep thinking that we need to storm those holding centers. What the flying fuck?

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    1. Elizabeth, right?? I often feel as if I am watching a slow motion train crash and can't manage to get anywhere near to it, much less stop it. I'm looking for my moment, like so many others of us. In the meantime, we must stay aware.

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  7. I agree that opposition is necessary, even in our own small ways (and at the ballot box, of course), but it also doesn't seem like nearly enough. As I read these articles about Trump dismantling the federal government and civil service and state department, causing harm that will take decades to correct, and damaging our alliances with almost every other country on the planet, I think -- WHAT do I do about this?! And yes, add holding centers to that long list of offenses. In the UK, Brexit, too. I literally do not know what to do.

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    1. Steve, i know the feeling. But if enough of us can recognize this is utter madness, at some point it has to reach critical mass, right? I don't understand all those republicans just standing around supporting this madman. What are they thinking as they line their pockets by passing self serving laws? Most likely that the mass cruelties don't affect them personally. But they're so wrong.

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  8. What would I have done if I lived when Hitler came to power? I would have been rounded up with the rest of my family and died in Auschwitz. I am living in a state of profound grief about what our country is doing. It's not just that monster in the White House, it's the 60 million people who voted for him, who think this is the way to proceed, who believe we are not just one people on one earth. What do I do? I grieve. I vote.

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    1. Robin, and so we will vote, you and I, and we will pray that voting machines are not being hacked. And we will love as fully as we can where we are! Beaming love to you now.

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  9. I'm not seeing any mainstream articles on deportation centers, Angela - can you point me to some?

    The comparison to Hitler's actions is completely appropriate, in my opinion.

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    1. Jenny-o, try googling “detained children” or “ICE child detention centers.” There are lots of stories. All heartbreaking.

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    2. Found them, thank you. And thank you for getting this on my radar.

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  10. https://www.immigrantjustice.org/index.php/staff/blog/familiesbelongtogether

    -invisigal

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