Category Archives: Racism

The Sounds of My People: A Hispanic/Chicanx/Latinx Heritage Month Playlist

The Sounds of My People:
A Hispanic/Chicanx/Latinx Heritage Month Playlist

Ness Perry

October 11, 2019

As National Hispanic Heritage month comes to an end, I would like to acknowledge, affirm, and celebrate the generations of Chicanx, Latinx, and Hispanic folks who have enriched United States culture and society. Our heritage teaches us to reflect on those who came before you and those who will come after as a way to recognize your own worth. Here are some songs that represent the stories of triumph, tragedy, and everyday life of my people.

1. Mexico Lindo y Querido by Jorge Negrete

In 2016, when President Trump announced his race for presidency, he slandered my family by calling all Mexicans “rapists” and stating that they are “bringing crime” to the United States. Playing this song after President Trump denounced all Mexicans was my form of resistance against his hateful rhetoric. This song is considered to be a beautiful ode to the people of Mexico, written by Jorge Negrete, an iconic singer, songwriter, and actor originally from my family’s home state of Guanajuato, Mexico.

2. El Pueblo Unido by Quilapayun

A common chant heard at protests worldwide is, “A people united will never be defeated!” This chant has been appropriated from the Spanish languages’ “!La gente unida jamas sera vencida!” which was initially recited in 1974 after a military coup d’etat in Chile. The song was written by Quilapayun & Sergio Ortega and is known widely throughout Latinxamerica as a song meant to mobilize the people by singing as one voice, united through music.

 

3. Para Agradecer by Chicano Batman

Chicano Batman is a band that took the world by storm in the last few years, especially when they played Coachella Valley Music Festival in 2015. Although this is a love song, Para Agradecer thanks life itself in its chorus when singer Eduardo Arenas laments, “Gracias a la vida.” This song always reminds me to be eternally grateful to the universe and any other higher power for that matter. Life is always giving me reasons to be grateful, and I like to listen to this song in the morning to start my day off by thanking the universe in every way possible.

4. (Brown and Smart), Monstro by Downtown Boys

When I first moved to D.C. I didn’t realize how political the music I listened to would get – and then I saw Downtown Boys play one night at a little bar on U Street. Their album “Full Communism” had just come out and I fell in love with the punk and brown aesthetic that they push in almost every song. The short speech that precedes the song reminds me of why I am in justice work: I’m here to take up space and let it be known that my voice will not be overshadowed by white hegemony.

5. La Bamba by Richie Valens

Possibly the most widely known Latinx song in modern history, this song reminds me of being in my grandparents living room with my cousins while watching the iconic Hollywood dramatization of the story of Ricardo Valenzuela, also known as Ritchie Valens. Ritchie was only 15 when he died, but his legacy lives on in the souls of all Chicanx identified people. He was the first major Chicanx musician to break out onto the top 40.

Music has evolved in the United States and Latinx artists from today, like Bad Bunny, and Cardi B have broken out of their genres into the top 40, collaborating with Hip Hop, Pop and R&B artists alike.  This Latinx/Chicanx/Hispanic heritage month I invite you to explore a genre of music rich with culture, struggle, and success.

Freedom for Some, But Not for All

Freedom for Some, But Not for All

Mary Cunningham
July 4, 2018

July 4, 1776: the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted. Since then, each July 4th we celebrate our nation’s freedom from an overbearing colonial rule and our fervent patriotism. We dress in red, white, and blue, enjoy cookouts with neighbors in our backyards, and watch from picnic blankets as fireworks erupt across the sky. Yes, the day has become commercialized, but the words of the Declaration of Independence remain as pertinent in our current political climate as they were when they were first written.

The document written by our founding fathers clearly declares our commitment to “unalienable Rights” defined as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It even goes so far as to say that when a government fails to protect these rights, it is the duty of the people to alter or abolish it, and that a leader whose actions resemble a tyrant cannot be trusted to rule and uphold the freedom of the people. Thus, we see the intricate and fragile relationship that exists between the government and the governed.

Take a snapshot of the United States at this exact moment, and you will realize that we have do not have good governance, and that many in our country still lack the rights which the Declaration of Independence deems “inalienable.” In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about what was meant by this term: “This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.”

The default on the promise of “inalienable rights” was evident during Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s time and it is still evident today for people of color and all on the economic margins seeking to live freely in the United States. We see this in the recent decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the Trump administration’s travel ban, Congress’s failure to pass a Dream Act to protect DACA recipients, and state and federal attempts to impose work requirements on human needs programs that help our nation’s most vulnerable families and individuals. How do these political decisions enhance the life, liberty, or happiness of the people they impact? They don’t.

On a more personal level, we have begun to fail one another, as violent discrimination and exclusion continue to reign. Our nation has endured countless acts of police brutality and racial profiling. I am astonished on a daily basis by the attacks on communities of color, like the recent shooting of high school student Antwon Rose. If we set a standard that “all men are created equal,” shouldn’t we hold all people to that standard, regardless of race, gender, or religious beliefs?

A few days ago, one of my coworkers sent around a video from the show, Dear White People, to our staff. In the video, the character Reggie reads a poem he wrote for an open mic night—his rendition of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident
that all men are created equal
that they are endowed by their creator
with certain inalienable rights
Among these life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness
unless you’re loud and black
and possess an opinion
then all you get is a bullet
A bullet that held me at bay
A bullet that can puncture my skin
take all my dreams away
A bullet that can silence
the words I speak to my mother
just because I’m
other
A bullet – held me captive
gun in my face
your hate misplaced
White skin, light skin
but for me not the
right skin
Judging me with no crime committed
reckless trigger finger itching to
prove your worth by disproving mine
My life in your hands
My life on the line
Fred Hampton
Tamir Rice. Rekia Boyd
Reggie Green
Spared by a piece of paper
a student ID
that you had to see before
you could identify
me
and set me supposedly
free
Life
liberty
and the pursuit of happiness
for some of us maybe
There’s nothing
self-evident
about it

The Declaration of Independence pronounced the individual rights that cannot be taken away. In 1776, that only included white, male landowners. After much hard work and sacrifice, we know that all people deserve these same unalienable rights. But, we see that as a nation today, we fall despairingly short of this. The words of the Declaration of Independence should not be an ideal or something that we aspire to. They must be the law of the land, the fabric which knits our country together. For if we cannot claim our freedom, what do we have left?

 

Attending the White Privilege Conference

Attending the White Privilege Conference

Alannah Boyle
March 28, 2019

This past week, my colleague Laura Peralta-Schulte and I had the opportunity to travel to Cedar Rapids, Iowa and represent NETWORK at the 20th annual White Privilege Conference. This conference was founded to examine the ideas of privilege and oppression and create space to work towards building strategies for a more equitable world.

For those of you participating in our Lenten reflection guide, you know that this Lent we are Recommitting to Racial Justice. The past two weeks, the reflections in the guide have been produced from our educational workshop on the racial wealth and income gap. We examine 12 federal policies and reflect on the ways in which each policy worked in order to create and perpetuate the racial wealth gap that exists today. Laura and I facilitated this workshop to over 50 other attendees. The reception was overwhelmingly positive. It is always exciting to spread the good work that NETWORK is doing to new audiences.

This was the second year that NETWORK staff have attended this conference. The presentations we attended ranged on topics from compassion as anti-oppression work, to the intersections of patriarchy and white supremacy, to embodied racial justice. Laura and I attended different presentations each session with the goal of gathering as much information in those four days as possible to bring back to the rest of our NETWORK community.

As I work to put my reactions into words for this blog, my thoughts and feelings after attending this conference, I am realizing the ways in which I am very much still processing the experience and all of the wisdom and expertise that was shared with me as a white person. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to attend this conference, and the ways in which NETWORK intentionally makes space for the ongoing work of racial justice amongst staff members.

Invitation to Congress: Marriage of TPS and DREAM

Invitation to Congress: Marriage of TPS and DREAM

José Arnulfo Cabrera
February 26, 2019

On February 12, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders took to the streets of Washington, D.C. demanding Congress to pass legislation that would give them a pathway to citizenship, after the Trump Administration pressured the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to deny their document renewals. TPS holders who have been in the U.S. for years, some since 1990, all of sudden now face the potential reality of going back to their native countries or becoming undocumented.

Temporary Protected Status was first enacted by the Immigration Act of 1990, which reformed our immigration system. One of the many things the bill created was away for foreign nationals who couldn’t legally be defined as refugee or asylee (but without a doubt fleeing, reluctant to return, or unable to return to their home country due to violence) to attain legal status. TPS allowed individuals to be granted work authorization without being deported.  The first group to be granted TPS was Salvadoran nationals. As time went on more foreign nationals were granted status and now people from ten countries are eligible to receive TPS.

For almost 29 years, TPS holders have been living successfully in the U.S. They have started families and careers, and have contributed to American society, but now are fighting to stay in their new home with the families and lives they’ve created. TPS holders and recipients (also called DREAMers) both find themselves in danger of losing their status and having to leave the U.S., or become undocumented. Like TPS holders, DACA recipients have been living in the U.S. for years and only in the past seven years have they had some form of status that allowed them to work in the U.S. Last Congress, multiple bills were introduced that would have “fixed” the problem the Trump Administration created. Of all the bills introduced, only two bills would have given DACA recipients and TPS holders a pathway to citizenship: the American Promise Act would have given TPS holders a pathway to citizenship and the DREAM Act would have given DACA recipients, as well as some who didn’t fit the age requirement, a pathway to citizenship.

This congress is different. Not only do the faces of Congress look different, but so are the bills they’re introducing. Instead of having two separate bills that would give TPS holders and DACA recipients a pathway to citizenship, the house will introduce a single bill that will give both a pathway to citizenship! While the specifics of this bill are not public yet, the bill will pave the way for comprehensive immigration reform. Hopefully, the House Judiciary Committee will soon have a hearing that will allow Members of Congress to know more about the people facing the issue, so that they can then move the bill forward.

TPS holders and DACA recipients have always been here, and they’ve always been a part of American society. Sorry to those who just noticed us, but we’re not leaving — because this is home for us.

Acknowledging Systemic Racism and Unpacking Whiteness

Acknowledging Systemic Racism and Unpacking Whiteness

Lindsay Hueston
February 21, 2019

In a commitment to moving towards being an anti-racist, multicultural organization, NETWORK staff is intentionally setting aside time in 2019 to read and discuss Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. The book examines structures of race in the modern-day United States, and is an especially pertinent read during Black History Month. As a white woman, DiAngelo challenges systems of whiteness that have led to the racism that permeates our political and societal culture. Though it may manifest itself in different ways, racism is still alive and well today, and impacts countless policies and issues that NETWORK works on in order to mend the gaps in our society.

During Black History Month, NETWORK challenges you to examine the way you and the systems around you may unintentionally perpetuate racism. We are trying to be intentional about listening to the experiences of people who are directly impacted by systemic racial injustice, and we encourage you to do the same.

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

– Lilla Watson, indigenous Australian activist

Some resources that may be helpful throughout this month, please comment below with any recommendations you have to add:

Books
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
Citizen by Claudia Rankine
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
White Like Me by Tim Wise
Waking Up White by Debby Irving
Trouble I’ve Seen by Drew G.I. Hart
The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Artist: Ernesto Yerena

Authors
Roxane Gay
Audre Lorde
Alice Walker
Toni Morrison
James Baldwin
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Maya Angelou

Videos
We Must Talk About Race to Fix Economic Inequality (YouTube video)
Talks to help you understand racism in America (TED talk playlist, videos on racial justice)
The Myth of the Welfare Queen (PBS video)

Articles
Everyday Respectability Politics
An Examen for White Allies: from the Ignatian Solidarity Network
What Black Lives Matter Can Teach Catholics About Racial Justice: from America Magazine

Lists
Reading List for Northam: recently-published article that has some great anti-racism resources
16 Books About Race That White People Should Read: further reading resources
(White) Girl Power aka The List: a list of anti-racist resources to white women to attain a deeper understanding of Black women’s lived experiences
Skimm Reads for Black History Month: recent popular books written by Black authors

Websites
People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond: holds programs, workshops, and resources for anti-racist education and organizing
Rachel Cargle: an activist and writer who educates others about anti-racism and intellectual discourse
Everyday Feminism: website has an entire section dedicated to the intersections of race and feminism

Podcasts
Code Switch (NPR)
Pod Save the People
Yo, Is This Racist?
Good Ancestor
Hoodrat to Headwrap
The Racist Sandwich Podcast
Ezra Klein: Political Power and the Racial Wealth Gap
A Conversation About Conversations About Race

TV/Film
13th
Dear White People (TV, Film)
The Hate U Give
Black-ish
Moonlight
Pariah

Rural Roundtable: New Mexico

Rural Roundtable: New Mexico

Erin Sutherland
January 28, 2019

Two weeks ago, Sr. Simone and I traveled to New Mexico to facilitate NETWORK’s first-ever Rural Roundtable.  The idea for a Rural Roundtable came when NETWORK realized that while we have a good understanding of how federal policies impact people in the urban and suburban areas, we needed to gain a better understanding of the lived realities for people in rural areas to be better advocates for the 100%.  The stops on some Nuns on the Bus tours had been in rural areas, but we wanted to make a more intentional commitment to specific communities by building upon events we would already be having in the state.

The day after we arrived, Sr. Simone and I spent the morning meeting with residents from the Laguna Pueblo.  We visited St. Joseph Mission School in San Fidel, NM, where we met 40 amazing students and staff who are actively committed to learning about and rectifying the environmental and health damage that was a result of decades of uranium mining.  Merrick, an eighth grade student, showed us a video he had made that  recently won first place in a regional competition.  The video featured the story of his grandmother, who had worked in the Jack Pile uranium mine and now has pulmonary-related health problems.  In the coming year, the entire school was planning to test their water for uranium, and the eighth-grade class was planning to travel to the University of Notre Dame to present their findings.  In the midst of such mature and thoughtful leadership and community engagement, it was heartbreaking to think of the health effects that these students and their families could face because of reckless extractive policies.

Later that night, we convened our roundtable in Albuquerque and spoke with service providers and community leaders from women’s health, childcare, rural dental care, indigenous communities, food security, and immigration sectors.  During our two-hour long conversation, Tina Cordova of Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium described the decades-long treatment of New Mexico as a “sacrifice zone” where corporations and government agencies have come in and extracted resources and conducted tests with little regard for the residents.  New Mexico has an endowment fund that is mostly invested and managed out of state.  Another community member described how this treatment has affected people’s view of their self-worth: if your government treats your community like it’s dispensable and not worth the investment, you eventually start to believe it.

As I reflect on everything I learned during my trip to New Mexico, it is empathy for all those who feel forgotten or left behind by their government that has stayed with me.  It is my faith, which upholds the dignity and value of every human life, coupled with my patriotism for “We the People,” that firms my resolve that everyone deserves to feel and be treated like a valuable member of society.  One thing Sr. Simone does so well is to help people move past helplessness and despair and towards hopeful action.  At NETWORK, this first roundtable gave  us an opportunity to reflect on how we can lobby for policies that will include the 100%- not just the people with whom it is easiest to engage.  This experience has given me and NETWORK an opportunity to listen more, listen first before acting, and then to act with intentional inclusion.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to have gone to New Mexico and to have met with so many amazing activists  heavily invested in bettering their communities.

To see more photos from the Rural Roundtable in New Mexico, click here

Two Shutdowns Over Immigration Policies

Two Shutdowns Over Immigration Policies

José Arnulfo Cabrera
January 17, 2019

In our current government shutdown—this time over $5.7 billion dollars President Trump is demanding as a down payment to build a wall—I was thinking about last year’s much shorter shutdown (only 3 days) over a DACA fix and the many other numerous times politicians have used the security of undocumented people and families as a bargaining chip in political debates. This blog post is a reflection of my feeling and thoughts of the last year’s DACA fix during the appropriation process. This ISN’T what other DACA recipients or undocumented youth felt during this time.

My two younger sisters and I grew up in the rallies our mom would drag us to. My mom was an organizer and I hated it. My weekends and weeknights were always filled with meetings, rallies, protest, and vigils. But after being tricked to share my immigration story and then organize a rally at the age of 15, I fell in love with it. A few years later I got my first community organizing job while I was a student at Xavier University. I organized a group called YES, Youth Educating Society, a group for high school and college students who wanted to fight for immigrant rights, empower immigrant youth, and put pressure to elected officials to adopt pro-immigrant policies.

After the 2016 election, our membership grew and the following year we had 100 members across the greater Cincinnati area with 50 of them considered “active members.” On September 5, 2017, every DACA recipient and their loved ones’ nightmare happened. The Trump administration decided to end the DACA program. That night I went to bed with a 105 degree fever, exhausted from rapidly organizing a protest outside of Senator Portman’s Cincinnati office, and having to comfort my fellow YES members. I spent the rest of that night re-planning how to achieve my life goals as an undocumented citizen. I spent the rest of 2017 trying to pass all my classes so I could stay on track to graduate in May 2018, organizing rallies in support of the 2017 DREAM Act, coming to D.C. to lobby Ohio Senators and Representatives to support the DREAM Act, and participating in a sit-in at Senator Portman’s DC office. But the most challenging and stressful month was December when immigration advocates made their strongest push for a DREAM Act.

The current government shutdown reminds me of the one that happened in January 2018, and how they both resulted from immigration-related issues: DACA last year and building a border wall this year. In December 2017, Congress had to pass multiple short-term continuing resolution bills that would fund the government for the following year. Democratic leadership saw that moment as an opportunity to secure a Republican commitment to hold a vote on legislation that would protect   the 800,000 DACA recipients who felt the weight of deportation again after the Trump administration rescinded DACA. After several negotiation meetings between President Trump and Democratic leaders, a deal was made. Republicans would include a DACA fix to last few appropriations bills, and Democrats would agree to give President Trump the money to build the Wall. Activists made it clear to Leader Pelosi that they didn’t want that deal. We wanted a clean DREAM Act.

I was scared. I was freaking out. I kept a close eye on leading groups in DC who were organizing actions for a DACA solution, aiming to make this the last time we had to pass a bill that will give DACA recipients citizenship, instead of the threat of deportation.

I was thankful that those demonstrators were doing what needed to be done to put pressure on the Senate to pass a clean DREAM Act. I was angry at myself that my exams were on the same week all of this was happening, and I couldn’t go to DC to do my part. Then I realized that if the DREAM Act didn’t pass, in 2019 my DACA would expire and I would lose the job I got after graduating from college. Since September 5, 2017, I still didn’t know how I could accomplish my life goals without my DACA. Watching all of the action in DC kept reminding me that I still didn’t have a plan figured out.

This standoff resulted in a government shutdown from January 20-22, 2018. The shutdown ended when the House and the Senate passed a short-term continuing resolution funding the government until February 9. Part of the agreement was that the House and Senate would use that time to pass legislation that would protect DACA recipients. Instead, federal court orders in January and February extended DACA renewals for previously-approved DACA recipients. By the time Congress needed to pay additional funding for the federal government, there was no mention of a legislative solution for DACA. Since then, Congress has not considered the DREAM Act bill again.

This past December, we found Congress in a similar position they were in the previous year. They needed to pass seven appropriations bills to fund the government, including one for the Department of Homeland Security which would have given President Trump money for the wall. This time, no one wanted to put a DACA solution in the debate. In some weird way, I’m kind of glad. I don’t think I could take another emotional month like the one in December 2017. But this time, the fight for wall funding is still relevant and is the reason why  we’ve been in a government shutdown for 27 days. Before everyone at NETWORK left for the holiday break, we saw President Trump refuse to sign the funding deal that didn’t give him the $5 billion to build a wall on the US southern border. Coming back to the office this month I was disappointed by the lack of leadership President Trump has to re-open the government. President Trump has failed to get the funding for the wall but has succeeded in further dividing our country.

I know passing a clean DREAM Act, or even a comprehensive immigration reform bill, won’t be easy. It would most likely get worse before it gets good and we’ll definitely get scuffed-up, but we’ll get it. I have faith.

Resisting the Lie of White Jesus

Resisting the Lie of White Jesus

Lindsay Hueston
December 22, 2018

Brown-skinned, poor, no home to call his own: this is how Jesus entered our world.

This is not the image that we in the U.S. typically think of. With the rise of European influence on Catholicism during the past few centuries, the Jesus we came to worship transformed into one that looked like the people in power: white.


I’m certain that the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, light-skinned Jesus does not look like the very Jesus that was born in Bethlehem more than two millennia ago. But which image is featured more prominently?

As Christianity grew and was used as a tool of power over centuries (think: Spanish Inquisition, colonialism in many parts of the world, Native American boarding schools, and other similar practices), dominant forces co-opted Jesus’s race to show that the religious leader others should be following looked like the people in charge.

The irony is that Jesus was condemned to death by the very people in charge, who didn’t share the same background as him. This idea–of a savior fleeing violence, of a messiah born into chaos–is important to remember today. This image is much more representative of our current reality of refugees and asylum-seekers coming to the United States than the gold-haloed images of the Holy Family as portrayed in most religious circles.

In the Latin American tradition of Las Posadas, community members reenact Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, and their search for a place  where Jesus could be born in safety. Two people playing Mary and Joseph walk to designated churches or homes, singing and asking for a place to stay, while crowds follow behind them. It is a visceral, spiritual reminder of the desperate hope for welcome Mary and Joseph felt while anticipating Jesus’s birth: a similar hope that motivates families fleeing to the U.S. southern border at the moment.

Like what happens in las posadas, our government is not letting these families in. “There is no room for you,” Customs and Border Patrol essentially tells them. A familiar line for those who know the nativity story.

Instead of a stable, many migrants cannot find any place to rest. We are offering them no safe resting place for their children, but cages instead.

Members of the current administration, ironically, claim to use principles of their faith to guide their policies. It is this same faith, though—based on the life of Jesus—that should call them to extend welcome to the asylum seekers at our borders.

Jesus wasn’t white. In the U.S., due to the intertwined systems of oppression that make up racism and classism, the communities affected by these institutional harms are not white, either. Jesus, too, was affected by these “isms” in his life, but how quickly we forget.

When we continue to depict Jesus as white, we hide the fact he too was considered “other,” different from the powerful majority. In overlooking this critical history, the figure of Jesus is no longer an outsider preaching welcome and a radical love, but a member of the dominant ruling group whose name is weaponized in order oppress the “other.”

When we as a culture whitewash Jesus, we forget from where he came, and the circumstances he was born into. By remembering Jesus as an outcast, a refugee, a carpenter’s son, we can better understand the radical nature of his teachings in our current political climate.

Our System of Mass Incarceration: Seeing the Parallels between Black Americans and Immigrants

Our System of Mass Incarceration: Seeing the Parallels between Black Americans and Immigrants

José Arnulfo Cabrera
December 19, 2018

In the last 40 years, the incarcerated population in the United States has increased 500%. There are currently 2.2 million people in U.S. prisons and jail. We incarcerate more people than any other country in the world thanks to drug and sentencing policies that disproportionately affects people of color. According to the NAACP, the effect of this callous approach to policing is riveting: Black people are incarcerated more than five times the rate than whites, the Black women prison population is twice that of white women, and Black children represent 32% of children who are arrested.  Then upon release, returning citizens face a myriad of obstacles that impede reintegration: employment background checks, low wages, and lack of affordable housing, coupled with banishment from government-sponsored safety net programs. For people of color, an encounter with the penal system could be its own death sentence. This is not how we as a country ought to be leading.

Yet, it doesn’t look like the U.S. will lose its standing as the world leader in mass incarceration with the presidency of Donald Trump, who campaigned as the “Law and Order” candidate.  Since Trump took office, a new Jim Crow 3.0 has emerged: the criminalization of undocumented immigrants. Undocumented Immigrants are considered criminals because they committed a misdemeanor crime, the equivalent to running a red light, for staying, or entering the U.S. without documentation. Under President’s Trump’s administration 448,000 undocumented immigrants have been returned or removed and includes those with and without prior convictions. Because President Obama’s DACA policy gave prosecutorial discretion to immigration judges, there are no records available for undocumented immigrants without prior convictions.

As a Government Relations associate responsible for managing a legislative portfolio that includes both immigration and criminal justice reform policy, I find it dangerously easy to spot the similar tactics used to criminalize immigrants and Black Americans. During Trump’s presidential campaign he said Mexican immigrants are rapists, and that they bring drugs and crime to the U.S. This past mid-term election cycle President Trump retweeted a fear-mongering campaign ad that portrayed immigrants as dangerous criminals who we must keep out of the U.S. The video bore a notable resemblance to the 1988 Republican “Willie Horton” presidential campaign ad now infamous for the “dog-whistle” racism it employed. While I’d like to believe these fear-mongering tactics don’t work, 34,000 of the 2.2 million people incarcerated in the U.S. are immigrants held in ICE facilities, and 60% of those incarcerated are people of color.

When we begin to look at how immigrants and Black Americans are incarcerated, we find another scary similarity. Since 2000, the amount of people incarcerated in private prisons has increased by 47% and the amount of immigrants held in private facilities has increased 442% since 2002. The corporations that manage these prisons and detention facilities are GEO Group, Core Civic, and Management and Training Corporation, which require the states in which they are located to arrest and imprison a center amount of people in their prison to make a profit. Because of this practice, it is in their best interests that the U.S. incarceration and detention rate does not decline. Additionally, the prisons owned by these corporations are almost always located in the middle of nowhere, making it difficult for the families and lawyers of incarcerated people to visit them. These tactics are used to make it harder for people of color to seek the justice they deserve.

The United States has created a system that values incarcerating individuals more than helping them return to their communities to be self-sufficient and contribute to society as we all do. Our country views a criminal as people who have always been bad, and will continue to be bad. But the only true evil in this system is mass incarceration.

 

(feature image courtesy of the California Innocence Project)

Stronger Borders, But Weaker Morals: What’s Happening to Asylum Seekers at the End of the Road?

Stronger Borders, But Weaker Morals: What Happens to Asylum Seekers at the End of the Road

Lindsay Hueston
November 26, 2018

On the westernmost portion of the U.S.-Mexico border, the taunting iron fence stretches from mountain to sand to sea – disappearing after a few hundred yards into the ocean. The water that chops around is the same, splashing both U.S. and Mexican soil. The most radical thing that struck me about being at the border was that birds could fly so easily over it, which seemed so normal – but the U.S. government, simultaneously, so heavily regulated the movement of people on land.

The U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, CA – June 2013

That was five years ago when I went to the border. Now, instead of birds, there are capsules of tear gas hurled over the border: the only thing in the air now is intense fear.

I’ve had the opportunity to visit the U.S.-Mexico border twice: first in the summer of 2013 during a college campus ministry conference in San Diego bordering Tijuana; and again in the winter of 2016 leading a service-immersion trip to El Paso, a city thoroughly integrated with its neighbor Ciudad Juárez in Mexico.

I never crossed over to Mexico in either of these encounters, but exchanged words, held hands, and prayed with people mere feet away from me, the only thing separating us an immense wall of steel and millions of dollars built up to create a militarized border. I stood on the U.S. side; a recently deported family stood less than three feet away in Mexico. We breathed the same air. We each huddled from the same chill.

That was three years ago; had I met that family at the border there now, they and their three kids would be running away from the fence to avoid tear gas and rubber bullets.

Last week the Trump administration put out a statement authorizing the use of lethal force against families and individuals from Central American countries who trekked thousands of miles to enter our country, with the possibility of closing “the whole border.”

The news of tear gas attacks on thousands of people coming to the United States to flee violence – and being met with more violence – hits me to my core.

Lethal force? For people seeking safety, fearing they’d die in their home country – and facing the possibility of death instead of new life?

I’ve eaten and laughed and cried with people whose life stories and trials are likely near-identical to the droves of asylum seekers searching for welcome in our country. What kind of country are we creating when we say we are a nation of immigrants, then turn away the most vulnerable?

The U.S.-Mexico border in Sunland Park, NM – January 2016

The images and videos I’ve seen are of women, children, families – people who should not be faced with the immensity of physical punishment that the U.S. is inflicting upon them for fleeing violence in their own countries. It is unconscionable that the Trump administration has come so far as to demonize infant children and their mothers, and anyone seeking asylum, so much so as to accept their injury, trauma, and potential death as merely a necessary consequence of our political debate and national security.

Firing tear gas on children and families who are here seeking asylum is both legally and morally wrong.

The actions of the U.S. government in turning people away and further militarizing our borders are a result of systematic racism, and do not reflect the core of our foundational communal values. The immigration system in our country has long been broken, but the recent attacks against immigrants and refugees under this administration have attempted to fundamentally reshape our system with the aim of closing our border to all but wealthy, white immigrants.

The structures of our country were never set up to benefit the most marginalized, but we don’t have to accept policies that perpetuate these evils. Instead, we can change them.

Children shouldn’t choke on tear gas. Parents shouldn’t have to make pilgrimages hundreds of miles on foot to seek a better life for their families. People in neighboring countries shouldn’t have to face a life-threatening decision: stay and die, or go and live.

Bridge into Juárez, Mexico from El Paso, Texas – January 2016

Yet our administration sees these migrants from Central America as criminals for the very fact that they are pleading to us for help.  We are failing to live up to our own laws and international human rights obligations to offer asylum to those who qualify. We are willing to let innocent people die before we open our borders.

It isn’t right – none of it is right.

We must continue to pressure the Trump administration against the harmful consequences they are inflicting upon our sisters and brothers who deserve protection, not condemnation.