We Have An Orchestra Here

Today, Propublica released this audio tape of children being held in a south Texas detention center. In the midst of all the crying, a Border Patrol guard laughs at them, singing, "We have an orchestra here... all we need now is a maestro." 

It adds another disturbing dimension to the reports coming out of children’s detention centers where grown men and women are holding infants, toddlers and children in steel cages. Policy forbids government employees from touching the children, and so these children are left to cry with comfort. 

These reports are like Abu Ghraib. But for kids. On US soil. Now. 

This is not happening in secret. In fact, some leading officials are bragging about it while Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, interpreting scripture like a slaveholder, claims it’s “biblical”. And this is taking place with the full, knowing participation of the leadership of government agencies — ICE, HHS, Homeland Security — and the thousands of ordinary employees in those agencies who make this nightmare happen each day. 

One of the ugliest aspects about this policy is that it is fully intentional: separating parents and children and inflicting harm and grief on them is meant -- somehow -- to deter refugees from seeking asylum here. 

This has been going on for months. While roughly 2000 children have been separated from parents in recent months, the total number of children in government detention camps is actually 11,432. (source: Washington Post). 

The flashpoint for this crime is the border, but the center of this problem is, of course, Washington. Even so, we are all implicated wherever we're situated: from the thuggish Minuteman vigilantes who "patrol" the borders, to the Obama officials who expanded deportations in order to capture the votes of "moderate" republican voters, to the rest of us who were vaguely aware something bad was happening, but failed to do anything to stop it. 

And it is not just a problem located "over there" in the South or in the border states. The deportation system is national—which means it's also intensely local. Which means, we owe it to ourselves to ask questions about how our communities are implicated in these crimes.

Where is the nearest ICE office in your area? Do you know what happens there? Are there detention camps in your community? Who works there—any neighbors or family or friends? What takes place in them? Are there children being held there?

The answers to these questions are not completely secret, though some may be. To answer them entails getting out and meeting people who have been directly impacted by these policies. In the DC area, Sanctuary DMV is a great group to join. The Democratic Socialists of America are also fighting on this front.

[Update 6/20: And it turns out that we do have an orchestra here. I am proud to say that last night, my chapter (Metro DC-DSA) found Kirstjen Nielsen, one of the primary enforcers and apologists for the family separation policy, eating at a local Mexican restaurant and shamed her into leaving. Check out the video here. I applaud everyone who is willing to erupt, interrupt and disrupt business as usual: that is the appropriate response to this emergency. NB: if White supremacists want to be anti-immigrant, the least we can do is enforce an all white-bread diet on them.]

If giving money is an option, there a number of organizations (such as the ACLU or the Texas Civil Rights Project) that are working to fight the family separation policy, and others (such as The Florence Project) working to give material support to detained children. The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights in Chicago is a non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of children caught up in ICE’s nets. 

Ignorance is no longer acceptable: we must learn the facts of these policies as they are implemented in our cities and towns. Each time ICE arrests a migrant or asylum seeker, they do so in the name of all Americans. Each time they throw a toddler into a jail cell, they do so in the name of America. Those of us who remain silent while this takes place will be harshly judged. 

 Image from Casa Padre, HHS detention center, Brownsville, TX.

Image from Casa Padre, HHS detention center, Brownsville, TX.