By Jim Gonzalez
Fox News host Shepard Smith reminded viewers Tuesday that in North Korea the dictator Kim Jong Un “imprisons children for the actions of parents and grandparents.”
Closer to home, at a detention center at a converted Walmart in Brownsville, Texas, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., was barred last Sunday from entering to check on the welfare of children that the Trump administration snatched from asylum-seeking parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Merkley said that he saw “hundreds of children locked up in cages there at that facility.”
This comes shortly after Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen evaded California Sen. Kamala Harris’ questions about these children and justified wresting children from their parents at the border and hustling them into detention centers, ostensibly for the “crime” of their parents — namely trying to seek a better life in America.
In one of the great ironies of these surreal times, by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ order, the Trump administration is now denying asylum to survivors of domestic violence and gang violence.
Fortunately, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a longtime leader in the fight for human rights, has introduced the Keeping Families Together Act to prevent the Department of Homeland Security from taking children from their parents at the border. This legislation is co-sponsored by 37 of Feinstein’s colleagues, including Harris.
In her statement, Feinstein echoed the moral outrage felt by immigrant and human rights activists when she said: “Young children have been taken from their parents’ arms and federal law enforcement hasn’t given parents even the most basic information about their children’s whereabouts. Many of these families are fleeing terrible violence, traveling thousands of miles on foot for the chance to file an asylum claim and save their lives.”
The courageous leadership Feinstein is displaying on this issue harks back to the time when she stood up to the CIA and released a report describing in detail the abuses and torture techniques such as waterboarding, which occurred in secret prisons beyond the reach of the watchful eyes of the media or human rights inspectors.
That same kind of review is required now as the Trump administration continues to target both legal and undocumented Latino families. We need immediate inspections by members of Congress, the media and human rights organizations of all immigrant detention facilities, as well as county jails and private prisons detaining immigrants and their children.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement lists 110 immigrant detention facilities on its website, but the for-profit detention gulag extends far beyond these acknowledged facilities, and includes more than 200 county jails and private prisons looking to make a buck on human suffering. More than 400,000 immigrants, many of whom are parents of U.S. citizen children, are caught up in this brutal system, which is carefully kept hidden from public view.
Anyone who doubts the seriousness of this horrific human rights crisis need only look at ICE Director Thomas Homan’s statement that undocumented immigrants “should be afraid” of agents coming for them. Under President Trump’s direction, Homan shifted ICE from targeting serious or violent offenders to going after nonthreatening individuals seeking to support their families, such as landscapers in Ohio and a man delivering pizza to an Army base in Brooklyn.
The nearly 700,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigrants who came to America as children could all become Trump’s next target because they all willingly gave their information to a federal database, trusting that the government would do the right thing. They may need to think again as they pose a ripe and profitable target for ICE agents and their private-prison partners.
We should look no further than the photo setups at the recent summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Kong Un in Singapore. Seated at the Singapore prime minister’s luncheon table was Trump’s anti-immigrant hard-liner Stephen Miller. Miller’s special mission in life has been to blow up any DACA deal and fight humane immigration reform. As Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham stated in a particularly candid moment about the DACA situation, “As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we are going nowhere.”
For years, the fear of arbitrary separations has been a very real prospect of everyday life for immigrant families. Now, Trump, emboldened by his cozy relations with dictators, is acting on his threats.
Fear has been transformed into a policy of cruel family separations and detention camps for children.
It is time for moral action. Tell your congressional representatives to enact the Keeping Families Together Act. Open the detention centers and private jails for inspections by members of Congress and human rights activists. We need to act together to preserve what remains of America’s morality, compassion and decency.
Jim Gonzalez is a former San Francisco supervisor, and spearheaded San Francisco’s first sanctuary ordinance.
The story can also be found at the San Francisco Chronicle.