You and I could have met in any number of ways, because of mutual interests, mutual friends, sharing online forums, or simply by chance. Like anyone, we won’t always agree on every subject, and that’s perfectly fine. We can even disagree amicably about fairly big issues without it negatively affecting our friendship. If, however, you are more interested in pointing a finger at past administrations (which certainly were imperfect), blaming asylum seekers who simply don’t want to be murdered in their countries of origin, and pooh-poohing draconian policies as not your problem than you are in caring how devastating the current situation is on innocent children and already traumatized asylum seekers, there’s something you should know.
I don’t trust you.
You may not care whether I trust you, and that’s your prerogative. Be aware, however, that I absolutely don’t believe you if you say you wouldn’t let harm come to me and my family.
“But they are breaking the law! Citizens who break the law don’t get their kids with them in prison. Why should we allow it for people who enter America without permission?” We have a process for asylum seekers, and it involves them making it to US soil before they can request it. Requesting asylum is not a crime. According to the official U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services website:
To obtain asylum through the affirmative asylum process you must be physically present in the United States. You may apply for asylum status regardless of how you arrived in the United States or your current immigration status. 1
I really don’t care who started the policies we have now, though it’s easy enough to research if you care about the facts. What matters is that the practice is damaging children for a lifetime2, injuring their brains just so America can be “tough on illegal immigration”.
Even if someone entering the country does not have a valid asylum claim, it’s a federal misdemeanor3 – the same level of crime as using the American flag on clothing4. Do you also believe that all the people who think they’re being super patriotic by wearing that t-shirt with the flag on it should have their children forcibly removed from them and taken to often undisclosed locations? If you do, what the hell is wrong with you? If not, it is imperative that we make sure the punishment fits the crime instead of allowing people to be herded into concentration camps. Before you object to the term, consider the following:
Yes, after 1941, concentration camps held Jews to prevent them from leaving Germany — but also to consolidate them for extermination. However, for more than eight years earlier, the camps generally were used for the opposite purpose: to force Jews to emigrate from Germany by making life intolerable, in part by separating men from their families. This is precisely the kind of important historical nuance lost in the hysteria surrounding Trump’s callous immigration policy. There are valuable comparisons to be made, but they must be historically informed.
These detention facilities for refugee children can rightly be labeled “concentration camps.” The Nazis do not own the term irrevocably, as it refers to prisonlike facilities where individuals are forcibly detained because of who they are. That meaning was applied to the British camps in South Africa where the term was coined during the Boer War. It would also be appropriate for the U.S. “internment camps” for Japanese Americans during World War II. We can call today’s U.S. border detention centers “concentration camps” and be within the realm of historical accuracy. By the same token, they are not Auschwitz. These children are undergoing terrible trauma, but they are not being murdered.5
Yes, the separation as policy has changed, but thousands of children who were already separated from their families have no guarantee of ever seeing them again6. It’s not enough to just say, “Okay, we won’t do it anymore.” No, we have to reunite each of these families and provide trauma counseling for the damage that we, as a nation, have inflicted upon them.
“You should care more about our own kids than what happens to the kids of lawbreakers!” some say. Did you know that it’s possible to care about both? Wanting humane treatment of people fleeing persecution in other countries does not diminish how much we care about what happens with our own citizens; in fact, many of us see the matters as inextricably linked.
This, in fact, leads me back to why I don’t trust you. You’re more interested in blaming Obama and demonizing immigrants than you are in being humane. If you care more about justifying cruelty based on your understanding of the law than you do about treating humans with basic human dignity, then I absolutely believe you’d do nothing if the laws changed to harm me and my family. We’ve seen an uptick of anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and white nationalism recently. What happens if it’s decided that:
- my child and I are on the undesirable list because of our Jewish ancestry;
- multiiracial marriages are outlawed (not for the first time in American history) and my marriage to my spouse becomes invalidated;
- or, they come after disabled people, as my child and I are both autistic?
After all, if you don’t see or prefer to excuse the injustice that’s happening right now, why would it be any different if the laws changed again to allow more human rights abuses? I don’t think you’d lift a finger to help me and my family; you’d just look the other way or rub it in our faces that we deserved it somehow.
We tried to get you to care when Republicans kept excusing rape in unconscionable ways7, but that wasn’t enough for you. We tried asking you to care when Trump demonstrated repeatedly that he is racist8, but you made excuses for him. You think of yourself as a good person, and I know you have some good traits. Why do you continue to excuse the inexcusable?
“Don’t you think that’s a little dramatic?” you might say. Absolutely not, and I will explain why. I understand that you may believe that you aren’t racist, you aren’t personally anti-immigrant, and that you just want a strong rule of law, but if you throw human rights out in an effort to feel stable and safe yourself, you have a lot in common with those who didn’t speak or act against the Third Reich and Jim Crow.
People needed and craved stability; in the case of the Jim Crow South and the Third Reich, that stability was offered by politicians and demagogues in exchange for participation in a strict and violent racial system. This stability afforded everyday whites in both the U.S. South and Bavaria Germany the opportunity to achieve their desired futures and to avoid imagined apocalypses. The opportunity to realize their expectations convinced far too many people to enforce, support, or at least look the other way as African Americans and Jews were stripped of their human rights, their dignity, and sometimes their very lives.9
If you allow abuses of human rights to continue without speaking up against it and doing what you can to stop it, you are complicit. These abuses cannot continue in the face of enough opposition.
It matters less who implemented particular policies than it does what we do about it now that we know what’s happening, in whatever time frame it actually started. How we choose to respond says what kind of people we want to be and whether we believe that humans have inherent worth and rights to be treated humanely.
Oh, but do go on about Hillary’s emails.
1“Obtaining Asylum in the United States.” USCIS, 19 Oct. 2015, http://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/asylum/obtaining-asylum-united-states.
2Wan, William. “What Separation from Parents Does to Children: ‘The Effect Is Catastrophic’.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 18 June 2018, http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/what-separation-from-parents-does-to-children-the-effect-is-catastrophic/2018/06/18/c00c30ec-732c-11e8-805c-4b67019fcfe4_story.html?noredirect=on.
5Beorn, Waitman Wade. “Perspective | Yes, You Can Call the Border Centers ‘Concentration Camps,’ but Apply the History with Care.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 20 June 2018, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/06/20/yes-you-can-call-the-border-detention-centers-concentration-camps-but-apply-the-history-with-care/?utm_term=.eddc81f6c87f.
6Solon, Olivia. “Fate of 2,300 Separated Children Still Unclear despite Trump’s Executive Order.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 21 June 2018, http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jun/20/trump-family-separation-policy-reuniting-ngo-burden.
8Silva, Christianna. “A Full List of Trump’s ‘Racist’ Comments about Immigrants, Muslims and Others.” Newsweek, 12 Jan. 2018, http://www.newsweek.com/trumps-full-list-racist-comments-about-immigrants-muslims-and-others-779061.
9Rountree, Ajanet. “Everyday Expectation: Complicity in the Third Reich and Jim Crow South.” UAB Institute for Human Rights Blog, 19 Apr. 2018, http://cas.uab.edu/humanrights/2018/04/23/everyday-expectation-complicity-in-the-third-reich-and-jim-crow-south/.