“Zero Tolerance,” No Humanity
This week, many of us watched the congressional hearing with DHS Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen. She appeared before the House Homeland Security Committee to answer questions about federal enforcement policies at the border. This was her first public hearing before the new congress, and Democrats seized the opportunity to ask the difficult but necessary questions. Repeatedly, Nielsen was without a response, or deflected. Through her stoicism the government was making it very clear: we’re carrying out this agenda by any means necessary. Facts be damned.
The most heated exchange came from Congresswoman Barragán, who took the internalized rage of our refugee and immigrant households and gave it a voice. Asking what we all were thinking: was the government truly unaware of relevant statistics and the ramifications of their piercing policy shrapnel? Furthermore, how do the American people cut through the manufactured fiction and get to the truth? For example, if the wall is simply a visual representation of security, and a benign one at that, why does the president insist on its necessity? To hear Al Green, a Democratic representative from Texas, explain it:
“There are those who believe that we already have too many people of color in this country,” Green said. “And these—one of whom happens to be the President of the United States of America—would institute policies that will prevent people of color from coming to this country. White babies would not be treated the way these babies of color are being treated, Madam Secretary. This is about color.”
It’s about the children, and yes, they are of color. However, this is nothing new. The practice of tearing families apart for political or economic motives, goes way back.
Throughout the course of US history, the government has engaged in policies designed to streamline the whitification of the country. Forced assimilation has been standard practice. Black families were forced to endure having their children torn from their grasp while at slave auction blocks. Fracturing their family units and causing massive trauma. Native American babies were taken away from their homes, sent off to boarding schools that inculcated them with religious beliefs foreign to their cultures, and then funneled them into white families via adoption. They were pressured to quit speaking their Native languages, and alter their appearance.
This is a far cry from the alternate reality depicted in the recent Hollywood film Instant Family, which attempts to take the history of what America has traditionally done to children of color and convert it into a swallowable “there’s no way that could ever happen here” pill. All to the tune of $115,342,973, at the box office. Because, white families adopting Brown and Black kids doesn’t have a shadowy past, right?
The legacy of subjugation, slavery, and child separation existing as acts that have been protected by the law is seldom talked about. However, they directly inform modern policy by placing it through lenses that demand sharp rebuke. Even as the leadership landscape changes. We are no better in 2019, than in 1800’s America, if we cannot ensure the safety and protection of children from the egregious harm that these collective government actions have caused. Such is the paradox of a country founded on theft, slaughter, and slavery.
US foreign policy has its consequences as well. The recent surge in asylum seekers is a major indicator of the effect the country has had on the nations south of the border. Estimates began to surface around mid-2017 stating that anywhere from hundreds to thousands of children were being separated from their families once detained. They had essentially arrived in droves and overwhelmed the points of entry. Nearly one year later the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy went into effect, and we now know that thousands of families underwent separation over the course of 2018. There are many who remain lost in the foster care system or are unaccounted for.
It should be noted, that Trump’s deportation numbers are overall lower than Obama’s. However, due to the “zero tolerance” policy, there has been an increase in the detainment and separation of families. This has isolated asylum seekers and migrants who are specifically from the Northern Triangle. In other words, Central American families are being targeted. The catalyst for their forced displacement can be dumped into several buckets: repressive governments and/or dictatorships, abject poverty and starvation, gangs, and U.S. interventionism. In fact, a deeper dive into how the US maneuvers through Central America further exacerbates the point.
All of this on the heels of the recent bombshell report by Axios. The findings of which, expose the thousands of allegations of sexual abuse committed against minors who have been held in detention by Border Patrol over the course of the last four years. A system that undermines the very dignity of those desperately fleeing to survive is a direct violation of human rights. Under the auspices of both Republican and Democratic administrations the general approach has remained the same. Assault on the vulnerable is business as usual. What shifts, is which community is the primary focus at any given moment, depending on where US interests are during that time.
We have come full circle. A bottlenecked process, that has been architected to keep migrants in a holding pattern, continues to criminalize them while profiting off their labor stateside. This negligence and abuse is at the cost of countless lives, and seems to be explained away by the powers that be as understaffing, ultimately, resulting in the dismissal of culpability. All of this, while the DHS Secretary claims to not know the exact figures relating to narco trafficking, human smuggling, or how many children still need to be reunited with their families.
So, what can we do?
Educating oneself on the context of the situation is a great place to start. Also, looking up your local/state representatives and their policy positions can help you be a more informed voter. Additionally, you can follow the accounts listed below who are covering the news on the ground. The humanitarian crisis at the border and its function as a mechanism for control is of our own making. By donating your time and resources, you send a strong signal to those in need that you are in solidarity with their plight.
We need to ask why these migrants (the majority of whom are women, children, and LGBTQ) are trying to escape, not just noting that they’ve fled. Perhaps that is good food for thought on this International Women’s Day? Because if there is going to be any change going forward, we will need to adopt a zero tolerance policy on treating anyone as sub-human.