There’s no denying that the current conditions for children and immigrant families at the U.S. border are deplorable, unsanitary, and inhumane. However, border detention facilities are but another chapter in this nation’s history of human rights abuses vis-à-vis detention and imprisonment.
For over 200 years, our “beacon of democracy,” has been abusing the accused, the unwanted, and the broken – whether they are men, women, or innocent children. While it’s atrocious to witness the humanity of the border crisis – as the nation did this week with La Journada’s publication of a father and child drowned in the Rio Grande – a single incident at the southern border is not the encapsulation of the U.S.’s dismal record of neglect of its most at-risk.
There is a new motto sweeping the nation. It is one even more dangerous and mythical than the ubiquitous, “Make America Great Again,” and it is repeated hundreds of times every day on television, radio, print, and streaming services. It is a motto that preys upon the unsuspecting and the suspicious without bias, and is dividing us from within under the guise of homeland security:
“If you see something, say something.”
We’re saying something.
Daily, across the nation, children as young as ten-years-old – and in some cases younger – are accosted by police, charged, and even tried in the criminal justice system as adults; others are subject to the prejudices and imbalanced and overburdened ‘family’ courts. Each of them, like their immigrant counterparts, are dragged through a court system without concern for what the experience may do to them psychologically, emotionally, or developmentally. For a first-world country to base its premises of justice on archaic and draconian practices is shameful, both on the international and domestic stages.
The accused of all ages, of all sexes, of all races, are hourly, herded through criminal courts ill-prepared to address the underlying causes of crime: those circumstantial, social, and psychological factors that create discord among people. The error of the system is far greater, however, that just the rate, manner, and biased judiciary that the accused must face.
True mistreatment of the accused lies in how they are conducted through the adjuncts of the judicial system. The human rights crisis at the border is little different than the conditions of city, county, and state jails, pre-trial detention warehouses, prisons, holding cells, courthouse cages, tanks, and transport vans. Today on the east coast it will be nearly 100 degrees in the urban areas, and sitting in the anonymous windowless hot-box in front of you at the light are a dozen humans en route to court – many after a sleepless night, lacking nutrition, a toothbrush, splash of water on the face, or the opportunity to have a meaningful consultation with a competent lawyer.
From pre-dawn hours until dark, a fleet of transport truck crisscross city streets. At a glance, most passersby dismiss the squat unmarked municipal trucks as dog-catchers, but the dogs at least have air – because it would be inhumane to transport a stray mutt in the summer heat without the basic decency of a cooling breeze or drink of water.
In the over-crowded basements of courthouses, jail processing cells, and every other detention facility in the country where cameras are banned (like the immigration concentration camps), and first-hand reports and observations are not easily obtained, conditions are often unmonitored by neutral parties.
The immigration crisis has at least gained the spotlight of the media, but it is a beam that needs to be widened. Not since the un-prosecuted homicide of Freddie Carlos Gray by Baltimore police, have custody conditions received such publicity.
It is well-deserved attention that must be sustained, as opposed to the intermittent shouts of outrage that we as Americans are so adept at. The immigration crisis is just one in a series of human rights violations in U.S. prisons, jails, courts, and judicial system. Until we, as a nation, stand for equality for all, for humane treatment of all, and for change, abuses will continue on every front – and we each will remain shackled by the inability to, “See something and say something,” when it matters most.
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