John Lewis, the civil rights leader and Georgia Congressional representative who died in July, believed the fight for immigrant rights was a continuation of the civil rights movement, the next chapter.
In 2013 Lewis was arrested for civil disobedience during a rally to support comprehensive immigration support. In the next two years he continued to show up for immigrant communities, protesting at the Atlanta Airport when the Muslin travel ban went into effect and at the Atlanta Detention Center when the U.S. government separated immigrant parents from their children.
In the months before his death, Lewis encouraged a group of young people, saying, “We need someone who will stand up and speak up and speak out for the people who need help, for people who are being discriminated against. And it doesn’t matter whether they are black, Latino, Asian, Native American, whether they are straight or gay, Muslim, Christian, or Jews. . . .”
“You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone – any person or any force – dampen, dim, or diminish your light.”
Two new books, Threat of Dissent by Julia Rose Kraut and Separated: Inside an American Tragedy by Jacob Soboroff, illuminate the history of immigration and how immigrants are being treated in America today.
In Threat of Dissent Julia Rose Kraut details America’s fear of foreigners and its history of excluding and deporting non-citizens because of their ideas and beliefs. The Alien Friends Act of 1798 allowed a president to detain and deport any noncitizen deemed “dangerous to the peace and security of the United States.” Kraut traces how different ideologies were considered dangerous according to the fears of different eras. Anarchism gave way to Communism; and Communism in turn gave way to to Islamic radicalism. After being elected, Trump immediately announced a travel ban upon visitors from Muslim countries. And though it was challenged for more than a year, a revised version was upheld with a 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court.
But Separated by Jacob Soboroff, a news correspondent for MSNBC and NBC focuses on the tragedy of the here and now. Soboroff was reporting from the southern border when he discovered that the Trump administration had been separating children from their migrant parents. This humanitarian disaster was compounded by such poor record-keeping that authorities couldn’t keep track of which children belonged to whom. Since the summer of 2017 at least 5,556 children have been taken from their parents – the true number is still unknown. The American Academy of Pediatrics called separation “government-sanctioned child abuse”; the nonprofit Physicians for Human Rights called it “torture.”
Read together Threat of Dissent and Separated: Inside an American Tragedy make it clear that the United States, a country that prides itself on its constitutional protections, also possesses a body of immigration laws that can be abused by its executive branch – as we’re tragically seeing now with Trump in the White House.
The current Administration apparently thinks we are not paying attention. They think the American people are too busy with the COVID-19 pandemic to notice the gross violation of child-welfare standards and immigrations laws being perpetrated at our border.
The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) is pushing back against the Administration’s flagrant violation of the law and its callous disregard for international human rights. The need is urgent:
It recently came out that the Department of Homeland Security is allowing a private contractor to detain immigrant children in hotels, in some cases for weeks. Children as young as one year old are being detained illegally and cared for by contractors with unknown credentials. The children are then sent back to their home countries without the opportunity to seek asylum or join family members already in the U.S.
This is a flagrant violation of federal anti-trafficking laws and it places children at great risk of harm.. By law, children who entered the U.S. unaccompanied by an adult must be released into the care and custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement for placement into licensed shelters staffed by childcare professionals.
The Administration is openly defying the Supreme Court’s ruling protecting DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). This past week USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) announced that it would limit DACA renewals to one year instead of the usual two and would not accept new DACA applications. These actions flout both the Supreme Court decision in June and a federal judge’s ruling last month. We assume this tactic is designed to make it easier for the Administration to deport DACA recipients if President Trump wins re-election.
Contact USCRI at email@example.com or (703) 310-1130 to donate in support of their work. The need is urgent.
“Immigration Nation,” a six-hour Netflix series three years in the making, gives a nuanced close-up look at immigrants and their treatment. Reporting and observation show ICE agents in New York, Charlotte, N.C., and El Paso as they round up immigrants, process them – mainly for deportation – and talk about their work. According to The New York Times review, “Immigration Nation’ provides abundant evidence for things that some might call fake news, like the determination of ICE, under the Trump administration to remove immigrants in bulk regardless of whether they pose any danger . . . . But what sticks with you . . . is its depiction of the banality of deportation – of the huge disconnect between the everyday people of ICE and the Border Patrol and the everyday people they detain, arrest and process.”
About a dozen refugees from Afghanistan are making masks in New Jersey to help protect against Covid-19. So far they have produced more than 2,000 $10 organic fabric masks. The masks are sold online through Global Grace Marketplace (https://global-grace-marketplace-cafe-square.site/) and fair trade stores across the country.
As the pandemic shut down the economy and furloughed refugees who had just started working, Interfaith Rise (http://www.interfaithrise.org), a church-based resettlement agency, began distributing sewing machines to those who had sewing experience. One of the refugees developed a prototype and a refugee-only work force was formed. Their sewing pays about $15.00 an hour and has helped to connect these new Americans to their new world.
Thelma Gomez, a member of the Vermont migrant community and an organizer with Migrant Justice states that grueling work schedules, limited access to medical care, language barriers, and cramped housing all contribute to farmworkers’ vulnerability to Covid19. “Multiple workers share the same room and if one gets sick there’s no way for them to self-isolate or to keep others from getting sick,” she says.
In addition, undocumented workers don’t receive stimulus checks from the Federal government nor do they qualify for unemployment. If a dairy farm closes or downsizes – and many farms have been struggling during the pandemic – these workers may find themselves homeless. Yet they are essential to the production of milk on dairy farms throughout the state.
Migrant Justice continues to represent the rights of farmworkers and to fight for their dignity, and many other organizations throughout Vermont are also involved, contributing transportation, food and clothing, and language support. The struggle continues.
According to an investigation by The New York Times and The Marshall Project, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has become both a domestic and global spreader of the coronavirus. Even as lockdowns and other measures are being taken around the world to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, ICE has continued to detain people, move them from state to state, and deport them.
Detainees are exposed to Covid-19 in cramped and unsanitary detention centers, and so far ICE has confirmed at least 3000 coronavirus-positive detainees, though testing has been limited. Further spreading the virus, detainees who may be infected are often moved from facilities in one state to another. And from March to June more than 200 deportation flights carrying migrants, some of them ill with coronavirus, have left the U.S. for their home countries. So far governments of 11 countries have confirmed that deportees returned home with Covid19. As of early July, ICE said that it was still able to test only a sample of migrants before sending them home. Yet deportation flights continue.
Since March the Trump administration has been quietly violating a federal; anti-trafficking law by turning back unaccompanied children at the southern border. Many of the children are younger than 13. So far more than 20000 have been sent back to their countries of origin. With the pandemic as an excuse, unaccompanied children have been denied their right to protective custody and the chance to tell their stories to an asylum officer or judge. Our government is returning children targeted by gangs back to their tormentors, and abused children back to their abusers. But public health experts say that Refugee Resettlement shelters are nearly empty and there is plenty of room to quarantine children for 14 days. In addition Homeland Security has told parents in family detention that if they’re worried about the coronavirus they can get their children released. This is an untenable choice for parents between keeping children in conditions of dangerous contagion or being separated from them, perhaps permanently.