Human Rights Crisis at the Border: Black Leaders Weigh In On Zero-Tolerance Immigration Policy - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine January-March 2019 Issue

The images are heart-wrenching: toddlers in tears, a chorus of children’s voices wailing for their mothers and fathers, boys sitting forlornly in cages. In April, the Trump administration put into effect a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that is escalating into a human rights crisis at the United States’ southern border. With the new policy, the administration is prosecuting as many people crossing the border as possible. Many of these migrants cross the border with children. As The Washington Post explains, when the adults are prosecuted, they are taken into Department of Homeland Security (DHS) custody. The children are separated from the adults, their parents, in most cases, and are placed in internment centers or “tender age” shelters since children cannot be detained by DHS. According to The Washington Post: 

Adding it all up, this means the Trump administration is operating a system in which immigrant families that are apprehended at the border get split up, because children go into a process in which they eventually get placed with sponsors in the country while their parents are prosecuted and potentially deported.

Human Rights Council, Spiritual Leaders Call For Policy’s End 

Journalists have traveled to the detention centers where these children are being held. The images and reporting have sparked outrage around the world. “The Department of Homeland Security facilities do not meet the basic standards for the care of children in residential settings,” the American Academy of Pediatrics stated in a released document. The head of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council called separating these migrant families “unconscionable,'” and called for the end of the practice (shortly after, the Trump administration announced that it was withdrawing the U.S. out of the Human Rights Council accusing the organization if being “a cesspool of political bias.”)

Historically, there has been a covert effort to drive a wedge between African Americans and immigrants. Alan Jenkins, executive director of The Opportunity Agenda wrote in an essay, “The mainstream media have fixated on potential points of black/immigrant tension, looking for a conflict storyline. And that storyline has been amply fed by conservative anti-immigrant groups intent on driving a wedge between the two communities.”

And yet, the harrowing images of migrant children held captive in tent cities and cages; sleeping under blankets made of aluminum foil, have black leaders speaking out. When Attorney General Jeff Sessions quoted biblical passages as justification for the zero-tolerance policy, African American religious leaders pushed back. CBS News reports that leaders at The Council of Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church said, “The Bible does not justify discrimination masked as racism, sexism, economic inequality, oppression or the abuse of children.”

Rev. Al Sharpton accused the Trump administration of enacting this policy because these are children of color. “There is a different policy here, and that is playing hardball with the future of these young people,” he said at a news conference in Washington, D.C. yesterday. Sharpton and other activists plan on visiting the immigrant children at the border.

Black Congressional Members Have Their Say 

Perhaps some of the sharpest criticism has come from Rep. Elijah Cummings. Cummings called the new immigration policy “the key moral and ethical issue of the day.”

“We sent letter after letter, letter after letter, asking these [House] committees to investigate the Trump administration’s policy which is now resulting in child internment camps, that’s what I said, child internment camps,” he said during a House Oversight Committee hearing on Tuesday. He went onto to say that no matter one’s views on immigration, “We should all be able to agree, that we will not keep kids in child internment camps indefinitely and hidden away from public view. What country is that?

Rep. Maxine Waters thanked members of Jeff Sessions’ church when they sent him a letter with over 600 signatures condemning the zero-tolerance policy and accusing the administration of child abuse.

“Kick him out in the name of the Lord!” urged Rep. Waters on Twitter.

Michelle Obama tweeted support for Laura Bush’s public disapproval of the policy.

Kamala Harris also weighed in.

Celebrities and Influencers Express Outrage 

In addition to political and spiritual leaders, black influencers and celebrities have also criticized the policy. John Legend, who has been vocal about his disdain for President Trump, sent this tweet after Paul Ryan posted a picture of his family on Father’s Day:

Actor Jesse Williams posted on Instagram.

FUCKING DISGUSTING, VIOLENT, SLOPPY & MALICIOUS: THE AMERICAN WAY. KEEP CALLING YOUR LOCAL OFFICIALS! 202-224-3121, Since early May, more than 2,300 children have been taken from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, resulting in a new influx of young children requiring government care. The government has faced withering critiques over images of some of the children in cages inside U.S. Border Patrol processing stations. Decades after the nation's child welfare system ended the use of orphanages over concerns about the lasting trauma to children, the administration is standing up new institutions to hold Central American toddlers that the government separated from their parents. The United Nations, some Democratic and Republican lawmakers and religious groups have sharply criticized the policy, calling it inhumane. Alicia Lieberman, who runs the Early Trauma Treatment Network at University of California, San Francisco, said decades of study show early separations can cause permanent emotional damage. "Children are biologically programmed to grow best in the care of a parent figure. When that bond is broken through long and unexpected separations with no set timeline for reunion, children respond at the deepest physiological and emotional levels," she said. "Their fear triggers a flood of stress hormones that disrupt neural circuits in the brain, create high levels of anxiety, make them more susceptible to physical and emotional illness, and damage their capacity to manage their emotions, trust people, and focus their attention on age-appropriate activities." via #AP

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And in an Instagram video, Oprah said that this is a story that is “important to all Americans.”

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Samara Lynn

Samara Lynn is a technology journalist, covering the industry for a decade. Her work appears in The Wirecutter, Tom's Hardware, PC Mag, and other online outlets. She's the author of "Windows Server 2012: Up and Running" and previously worked in the IT industry. She's currently the digital manager at Black Enterprise.