As a Latin American immigrant and a naturalized citizen who made a life, family and career over the last two decades in the United States, I have never seen threats to our existence or expressions of hate like those I’ve encountered since President Trump’s election.
Not only is the administration deliberately closing U.S. borders to people seeking protection, it is also attacking immigrants who already legally reside here.
Recently, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service publicly announced the creation of a denaturalization task force, which was already looking into the cases of more than 2,500 U.S. citizens for allegedly committing fraud. While the administration claims that it will only be pursuing cases of fraud, these actions appear to be meant to inspire fear among all immigrants.
We know what President Trump says about immigrants and asylum-seekers. He describes them as “animals” arriving in the United States to “infest” the country. The hateful policy of separating children from their parents for exercising their legal right to seek asylum from violence and persecution was emblematic of the disdain his administration has shown toward those coming to the United States, many from Central America seeking protection.
This has never been about following the law. If it were, the administration would not have to bend the law or even blatantly disregard it to accomplish its discriminatory ends.
I’ve seen the devastation of these policies firsthand. Just four days before Mother’s Day, I met with families forcibly separated from their children after they requested asylum in El Paso. Despite what Trump claims, fleeing violence and persecution to ask for protection in the United States is absolutely legal. Many people fleeing their countries do so because their justice systems cannot hold perpetrators of crimes accountable, or keep survivors safe in the process.
Maria arrived with her grandson at the El Paso port of entry in August 2017. She had his medical records and notarized documentation proving legal guardianship. She also had a doctor’s note warning that the child had severe cognitive disabilities and would have epileptic attacks if separated from her. Nevertheless, border patrol agents tore the sick child away from his grandmother and flew him to a facility in Connecticut.
Maria burst into tears when she spotted her grandson’s picture in her lawyer’s file. This child should never have been separated from his grandmother in the first place, and yet they have been separated for an astonishing nine months with no indication that they will be reunited soon. By ripping her grandson out of her arms, the administration violated both of their human rights and the laws it claims to defend.
We’ve seen distressing and heartbreaking images of children locked in cages. We’ve heard audio of their cries, as they ask for their parents and plead to be reunited. We’ve watched their desperate parents ask for help, hoping the public will see the senselessness of separating families fleeing from violence and persecution. We’ve even seen toddlers sitting alone in immigration court, made to defend themselves without a lawyer even though they are too young to string words together. And now legal citizens are having their status questioned.
These recent developments, as well as the specter of the thinly-veiled discrimination of the Muslim ban, show that Trump has no interest in upholding the law and every interest in making any and all immigrants feel unwelcome.
What other terrible cruelties will happen in the name of Trump’s xenophobic and discriminatory policies? It is far past time for all of us to rise up, come together and denounce the hatred that has led us to this shameful moment in U.S. history. This is the moment to call our elected officials, attend rallies and protests, and support marginalized people in our communities. We must hold administration officials and agencies accountable for their heartless and devastating actions. No matter what values the president claims to uphold, we must continue to call out the animus behind these hateful policies as the bigotry that it is.
(Author Margerin is the advocacy director for the Americas at Amnesty International USA.)
(In this photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people who’ve been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States, sit in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas, Sunday, June 17, 2018. Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protecti, HO-TNS)