EDITOR’S NOTE: As we were celebrating “Independence” day and our freedom, there are vivid examples of these very freedoms being denied to the most vulnerable. I had reached out to Romy Carver this week when I saw her photos and posts about attending the rally calling for the end to the border camps. Here’s her story. It provides great insight into the situation, sifting through all the mis-information and propaganda. Most importantly, Romy provides some ideas on what to do. Be sure to see her suggestions for solutions and ways to make a difference.
By Romy Carver (July 04, 2019)
A couple of days ago I packed up my sister and my kiddos and attended a rally in support of closing the camps on the southern border of the United States. In recent weeks, several reports have come out describing the horrific conditions under which immigrants are living (and dying) and each report seems worse than the last. Like many people, I have been left with a sense of helplessness and sickened with horror.
Perhaps even more distressing is the stunning apathy and even a kind of smug satisfaction displayed by some people about the suffering of innocent children in a country that used to at least give lip service to freedom. The statements defending these camps make me ill, because they display a level of ignorance that is hard to dismiss as unintentional.
I hope to speak about why I support closing the camps, and what else can be done. We are on a very slippery slope to becoming something we once worked hard to defeat. I have heard arguments that referring to these camps as concentration camps is dismissive of the horrible suffering that took place in the WWII-era concentration camps in Germany. However, people fail to see is that there is a difference between concentration camps and extermination camps, which is what most people think of when they think of a concentration camp. Concentration camps are designed to “concentrate” into one area people who are considered by those in power to be undesirable. Merriam-Webster defines a concentration camp as “a place where large numbers of people (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, refugees, or the members of an ethnic or religious minority) are detained or confined under armed guard.” The first Nazi concentration camps were built in 1933 to house political prisoners. By the end of WWII, some of these had evolved into the notorious extermination camps. That is my fear for America. There is currently nothing preventing the concentration camps from becoming extermination camps if something isn’t done.
There is a prolific propaganda campaign to gain support of society to defend this. In this case, it’s widespread anti-immigrant rhetoric that is being relentlessly flung at us. (A cursory look at history will show that the propagandists aren’t very creative; it’s the same rhetoric: taking our jobs, criminal element, etc., that has been used against so many other immigrant groups, such as the Irish.) It’s also a tactic to dehumanize people so that we lose empathy for their suffering because we see them as different, less human, less deserving than ourselves.
A true story: in WWII, boys from farms and towns across America signed up to fight the spread of Nazism. However, it was hard to get them to shoot and kill other human beings, even enemy soldiers. The American government hired Walt Disney to draw caricatures of Japanese and German soldiers as pigs and rats and spread this far and wide. The dehumanizing worked. This is the same mind trick being played today. Immigrant families are portrayed as rapists, drug dealers, child traffickers, and dangerous criminals who want to take jobs and freeload from America. I’m still not sure how people reconcile their image of someone who is willing to take a physically demanding and exhausting laborer job with someone who is trying to get a free ride, but that shows that propaganda works.
I have heard these camps defended as something President Obama started during his tenure, as if that is a defense. While Obama was President, he had to house children coming over unattended, as there were legitimate concerns about kids having nowhere to go. They were put into facilities as a temporary measure until relatives could be found for them to be sent to. They were only to be kept in these facilities for 72 hours before being transferred to the care of Health and Human Services. The chain link fence at the facilities was to separate people by age and gender though they were admittedly large cages. However, Obama did NOT take children from their parents, and did not have a family separation policy.
Obama was no angel, to be fair. He was referred to as the “Deporter in Chief” because of the record numbers he deported. Conditions for kids at these shelters was not great, and there were plenty of allegations of abuse. This now seems mild in comparison to the current administration. Nobody died in custody in those facilities, yet at the time of this writing, seven children have died under the Trump administration’s oversight there. That number is sure to increase based on malnourishment, medical neglect, trauma from separation, and other abuses. Reports indicate that children are taking care of other children, and denied clothing, hygiene basics, food, water, sleep, and are kept in spaces which are deliberately kept at unhealthy temperatures. Thirsty women are being told to drink out of the toilet. Children who had lice were handed a lice comb and told to comb out each other’s hair. When one of them misplaced the comb, the group of children was punished by being screamed at and having their blankets taken away. These things did not happen on Obama’s watch. By the way, Anne Frank died of typhus, not in a gas chamber. The main carrier of typhus is lice, which are now rampant in American concentration camps.
The prisoners are often people who have not committed a crime. If someone comes to the U.S. and works and lives without documentation, that is not a felony, or even a misdemeanor; it’s a civil infraction, as serious as a ticket for having overly tinted windows. Think about that next time you are pulled over. In fact, many of the people in the camps are here legally. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, refugee status or asylum may be granted to people based on the following: refugees are generally people outside of their country who are unable or unwilling to return home because they fear serious harm. Refugee status may be sought only from outside the United States. However, asylum is available to people who meet the definition of refugee, are already IN the United States and are seeking admission at a port of entry. Therefore, when the Trump administration inhumanely separated and locked up families at the ports who were requesting asylum, they violated international law. They were notified of this by the UN over a year ago and continue to do it. In other words, the United States is more in violation of the law than the people it is locking up. You can hear the children on audiotape sobbing for their parents, and there is interview after interview of parents devastated because their children were forced screaming from their arms. The youngest child kidnapped by our government was four months old. He is now two and recently returned to his parents after being in foster care. He can’t walk or talk and is severely emotionally damaged. Was he such a threat that this was necessary?
People ask, “why would any loving parent subject their kids to this?” They are here for a variety of reasons. They often have family and friends established here and are more likely to be able to survive economically. Central and South America, especially the rural areas, have been driven deep into poverty, partly by American policies and practices. And more and more migrants are here because of the resulting violence and instability directly related to cartel activities. I heard one woman’s story today, about how a gang member saw her hand a police officer a cup of water, and decided she was “siding with the cops.” They were targeting her and her four-year-old son for assassination. These folks are literally fleeing for their lives with their children. The “right” way that people like to preach about can take decades, and these people can’t afford it. There’s no “line” to wait in, especially for hard-working poor families. We hear a lot of fear mongering from the current administration about the “migrant caravan” and the crisis on the border. Yes, it’s a crisis. It’s a humanitarian crisis of our own making.
If you are stuck on the “loving parent” argument, go out tonight and rent “The Sound of Music.” Look at the risks those parents took to get their kids out of Nazi Germany, and the very dangerous trek they had to make over the Alps to get into Switzerland. That’s what loving parents do.
Calling human beings “illegal” shows ignorance and plays right into the hands of the propagandists. It dehumanizes people and supports persecution and abuse. While there are plenty of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. from Central and South America, there are quite a few as well from Asian and European countries; yet we aren’t seeing them in the camps (not that I’d want to). It’s extremely common for people to come here legally on a Visa and stay illegally after the Visa expires. In fact, it’s more common than swimming across a river. Because of that, and the fact that airplanes and tunnels exist, the wall remains a wasteful and ridiculous idea. It’s a blatant play on the fears of uninformed people.
So what do we do now?
I’d like to see us remain a free country and a land of opportunity. Right now, we are vilified by the international community and it will only get worse. I’m not at all proud to be an American on this lovely Fourth of July morning. It’s hard to feel celebratory now that we are the bad guys. I get it; we all grew up watching the movies where the bad guys were always someone else. We grew up pledging allegiance and standing as a flag passed by, and we believed that we knew what freedom meant. So the cognitive dissonance must be hard for some people. But it was true even then that taking away someone else’s freedom doesn’t make us free. It only makes us fearful, mean, and small. We are now our own worst enemy, and the whole world is watching. We are no longer the land of the free and home of the brave. The Nazi party of the 1940’s is alive and well and has taken up residence in the federal government and the White House.
WE MUST ACT! Remember, your tax dollars are getting used to fund this shame! Get mad! Use that angry energy for good. Here are a few ideas, though they aren’t originally mine. The first one is to learn all we can about genocide, immigration, and history. It’s an eye opener and should cause every good American to speak out. Be prepared that when you do, others will be rude and hateful to you, because they have no reasonable argument to defend their beliefs. You will be shouted at, dismissed, interrupted. Those are the defense tactics of the ignorant. Stand tall, knowing that you are on the right side of history and you are not alone.
Contact your lawmakers. In Oregon our lawmakers have largely condemned these horrible camps, but it’s good for them to hear consensus from their constituents. Email, call, show up, write letters, whatever it takes. And while you are at it, write a letter to your local paper. Write a blog or a social media post. The pen is still mightier than the sword. Why do you think corrupt governments such as ours hate the media and journalists (besides the ones they own)?
March in rallies and parades, attend vigils, make some noise. Demonstrate your unwillingness to see our country turn into a murderous fascist regime. Bonus: you will meet wonderful people who actually want to make America great, and those shy people watching will be emboldened by you.
Donate to charities that can help.
RAICES is my personal favorite because they work directly with immigrants on the border. Even if you can’t personally afford to donate right now, you can create a social media fundraiser and promote it. It will literally save lives. In fact, one couple created a Facebook page to fundraise for RAICES that brought in over $20 million! They help with immigration bail, and they help to free and reunite families as well as provide legal defense. By law, immigration bail is set at a minimum of $1500 but can be much higher, and immigrants can spend years locked up awaiting trial. Traditional criminal court bail can be as low as $50. The Trump administration is now demanding a ransom from parents who have been located and want their children back. Other worthy charities include Catholic Charities, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, American Immigration Lawyers Association, Women’s Refugee Commission, Immigrant Families Together (which has a long list of potential fundraisers on its site). Be creative and use your talents to raise money. Art and music are powerful outlets to raise awareness and funds.
Sign petitions, and VOTE. Vote for candidates who are trying to help. Vote out the ones who aren’t. Learn the difference.
Tell your local law enforcement and officials to please not partner with ICE raids.
If you know Spanish, volunteer to connect with English-language learners as a tutor and mentor; offer support and comfort to local people who are undocumented.
Are you a frequent traveler? Donate air miles. Lawyer Moms of America is one program that donates these to people in need.
Educate others, for their own sake. If you are a teacher, check out the Teaching Tolerance program through Zinn Education Project, which offers materials for specific age groups to raise awareness.
Teach your children kindness and empathy, not greed, hate, and entitlement. I don’t know what direction this will go in the end. I don’t know who they want to put in the camps next. All I know is I want my grandchildren to remember me as someone who tried to do the right thing and tried to make the world a better place. The highest compliment we can pay our loved ones is to be someone they aren’t ashamed to be related to.
Find a community that supports justice. There are some wonderful organizations and faith communities who still follow the precepts of kindness, generosity, and humility. They will be there for you when you get discouraged, and you will.
Lastly, take care of yourself. This is depressing stuff, and we’re in for a distance run, not a sprint. Thank you advance for caring. I’m interested in any other ideas that anyone has, as we’re all in it together.
“Peace Out Loud” is Romy Carver’s personal blog, which is focused on creating peace. Come on in and kick off your shoes! I appreciate feedback and would love your thoughts and comments.