“Apurar, cielos, pretendo,
Por qué me tratáis así,
qué delito cometí
contra vosotros naciendo.
Aunque si nací, ya entiendo
qué delito he cometido;
bastante causa ha tenido
vuestra justicia y rigor,
Pues el delito mayor
del hombre es haber nacido.” ~ by Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Outrage is the only word that comes to mind to describe the Obama Administration’s recent admission that they are aggressively pursuing enforcement against families and children. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has launched a 30-day “surge” of arrests focused on mothers and children who have been ordered removed by an immigration judge. It was also reported that the operation would cover minors who have entered the country without a guardian and since turned 18 years of age.
I am outraged the administration continues its flawed assertion that aggressively deporting these young children and mothers will serve as a deterrent for future migration from people facing similar situations. How does forcing a woman or a child to return to an abusive relationship deter them from fleeing? How does sending children to extremely violent neighborhoods deter them from escaping? How difficult is it to understand that when death is at your door, nothing will keep you from running away and seeking refuge, because anything is better than to sit waiting for death to come through the door and tear you and your loved ones apart.
The sheer lack of understanding of the circumstances these mothers and children are fleeing from is astonishing, given the numerous reports that have labeled the countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador as the most violent triangle in the hemisphere. In fact, El Salvador has been identified as the “murder capital of the world,” and Honduras and Guatemala are not far behind. This region is so violent that even the Peace Corps suspended sending volunteers there. Yet, the administration believes that returning families and children to the dangerous area will somehow deter others from fleeing.
The failure to appreciate how high the deck is stacked against these families once they get here is also astonishing. How can the administration claim with a straight face that “due process” was ensured when less than 50 percent of the families they arrested last time around had any kind of legal representation? The fact of the matter is that from the moment they step foot in our country, these families are set up to fail. Either detained for weeks with sick children in jail-like facilities or released from the border without knowing what they are expected to do next, then placed on expedited court dockets without any guarantee of help from a lawyer – what chance do these families really have?
If the Statue of Liberty could come to life, she would storm from her foundation screaming, “How dare you forsake the principles for which we stand?” For this land is no longer the land that welcomes those who seek refuge. As an asylee and U.S. citizen, I am personally dismayed and disgusted at the callous response from the agency, the administration, and our leaders. As the poem cited at the beginning of this post notes, “What crime did I commit against you in being born?” as these children were born into danger and violence. Mothers are merely doing what mothers do in seeking to protect them – but now they feel the coldhearted, cruel, and rigid response from our once-upon-a-time “Land of Opportunity.”
We must return to the principles of our forefathers. We must not give into fear and xenophobia but stand firm against untruths and deceit. An orderly, fair, humane, and sensible process for these vulnerable individuals to effectively present their claims must be established — a system where a three-year-old does not stand alone, where a mother does not fear her daughter will be sent back to be raped by gangs, or where a young boy does not have to fear returning to fend off the gang members who killed his best friend at school.
Enough! If we don’t have a heart, we are no longer a country. Enough! If we cannot come together to imagine, draft, and implement a workable immigration system we are no longer a nation of immigrants. Enough! If we don’t stand against those who instill fear and spread untruths about foreigners, we are no longer the nation of our forefathers. We must all stand together and say “Enough!” This country cannot move forward without compassion, impetus, and willingness to be the America it can be. The time is now to chart the course this country will follow. One road will lead to the inclusive, innovative, and welcoming nation America has been, and the other leads only to fear, walls and hate. I know which road I want to take. Do you?
Written by Annaluisa Padilla, AILA First Vice President