Editor’s Note: Carmen Perez is the Executive Director of The Gathering for Justice, co-founder of Justice League NYC and serves on the board of the Women’s March. Follow her on Twitter @msladyjustice1. Rachel O’Leary Carmona serves as the Chief Operating Officer of the Women’s March. Follow her on Twitter @RachCarmona. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors
On Saturday, President Trump tweeted the following:
“Put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from their parents once they cross the border into the U.S. Catch and Release, Lottery and Chain must also go with it and we MUST continue building the WALL! DEMOCRATS ARE PROTECTING MS-13 THUGS.”
The irony of this is that he was referring to a horrifying practice that is underway in his administration, and that reflects the nation’s deep moral crisis. According to a report in the New York Times, since October Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has taken 700 children from their parents or other adult guardians as they attempted to cross the Southwest border into the US.
These children included an 18-month old toddler whose mother presented herself to immigration authorities seeking asylum, with the child’s birth certificate in her possession.
Earlier this month, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly made headlines for not even attempting to mask his contempt for these children, saying those caught by agents “will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever.”
And weeks prior, the Department of Health and Human Services admitted that the agency had lost nearly 1,500 migrant children it placed in the US foster care system during the Trump and Obama administrations. A trafficking ring that posed as sponsors was recently exposed for forcing immigrant children to live and labor under ghastly conditions at chicken farms in Ohio.
Both of us, through our work with the Women’s March, have seen firsthand the power of women to affect dramatic change. It is up to us now to strike back at the cruel and profoundly racist practices inflicted on Latino immigrants at our borders as well as the ongoing racial profiling, harassment, imprisonment and worse of Latino women, men and children living in this country.
Nelson Mandela observed, “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Our nation’s soul, then, is very sick indeed.
But Coretta Scott King also gave us wise words about our power as women to tend to it. “Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe we must become its soul.”
Hostility toward immigrants is not new in this country, but a modern president leading this chorus is.
Dehumanizing Latino communities has been Trump’s calling card since the first minutes of his presidential campaign, when he called immigrants from Mexico criminals and “rapists.” Trump had been amping up this dehumanization over the past weeks, using the word “animals” in speeches and tweets to refer to people affiliated with MS-13, and just days ago, launching a White House web page that uses “animals” no less than 11 times to refer to them.
Remember that this is the same president who called white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, “very fine people.” At a certain point, the President’s repeated use of dehumanizing and hate-filled rhetoric can no longer be seen as situational — aimed only at what he offensively termed during his campaign and early presidency “bad hombres.”
A logical person would only be able to conclude that his words and policies reflect deeply rooted hatred of Latinos and other marginalized communities.
Fearmongering is being used to justify racial profiling and violations of Americans’ constitutional rights. Last week, for example, an ICE agent detained and questioned two US citizens in Montana solely because they had spoken to each other in Spanish.
US Customs & Border Protection has long had the authority to conduct random and arbitrary stops and searches anywhere within 100 air miles of a US border, including coastal sea borders. This authority, based on a regulation adopted by the Department of Justice in 1953, is an open door for potential abuses in the current climate. Consider that the majority of the American population lives inside this “constitution-free zone,” which includes cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and the entire states of Michigan and Florida.
Immigration agents can enter private property, set up permanent highway checkpoints and detain individuals if they suspect an immigration violation. And importantly, they can use race and ethnicity as factors that would create “reasonable suspicion” for them to do so. The women in Montana were buying eggs and milk at a store when they were detained for 35 to 45 minutes by the Border Patrol agent, who told them, “it has to do with you guys speaking Spanish in the store, in a state where it’s predominantly English-speaking.”
This treatment of Latinos (and other minority groups) as “the other” must stop. It is up to us women to channel the energy and activism of our movement into local electoral organizing, countering voter suppression and supporting grassroots women and people of color who will protect our community. With so much at stake, we have no choice but to organize and produce concrete wins in 2018.
We “become the soul” when we see ourselves in the struggle of other women to protect themselves and protect the vulnerable. We marched precisely because we believe that no woman is free until all women are free. We can’t be idle while mothers and fathers have their children ripped away from them, potentially never to be seen again. We can’t be idle while children are trafficked out of the foster care system.
The racism and white nationalism that has been drawn to the surface by — and indeed, defines – the Trump administration truly exists everywhere. But so do we. And women must challenge it wherever it exists, from the highest seat of power to local policies and decision-making.
Six-year old Sophie Cruz took the stage at the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, her parents standing proudly behind her, to deliver a message of hope for the dark days that were ahead.
“We are here together making a chain of love, to protect our families. Let us fight with love, faith, and courage so that our families will not be destroyed,” she said. May we hold on to those wise words of love as we resist the forces of violence and hatred.