Atrocities at the Border Speech

What would a sound, humane immigration policy look like? Ann Wertheimer’s speech to protest immigration atrocities (given at the demonstration on June 30 across from the American Embassy) lays out some principles and issues that Congress should consider. Click below for the full text of the speech.

Atrocities at the Border, June 2018
by Ann Wertheimer and Carolyn Prescott
on behalf of American Voices Abroad Berlin


I would like to say a few words about the atrocities at the U.S.-Mexico border. I am choosing my words carefully, because words, I believe, do matter.


On June 20, the President of the United States signed an executive order that said that it was “the policy of this Administration to maintain family unity, including by detaining families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources.”


So: now the policy is to incarcerate babies WITH their families instead of putting them in so-called tender care facilities or baby jails. This is the government’s zero-tolerance policy. They own it. They didn’t have to issue an executive order; they just had to stop the practice.


I am reminded of a wild fire in California a few years ago. It was said to be arson and turned out to have been set by a firefighter who wanted a chance to extinguish a wild fire: He was bored, he wanted some overtime pay, and, most of all, he wanted to impress his friends. Now we have an arsonist in the White House.


We have heard people quote scripture. We always knew the devil could do it, but now it’s the Attorney General. He said that the Bible tells us to obey the law. Well, Sessions didn’t care much about the laws banning segregation nor does he feel compelled to enforce the Affordable Care Act.


We can’t stand by while the U.S. government commits what’s sure to go down in history as one of the worst human rights abuses of our time.


So – what would a humane immigration policy look like? This is a complex question and I don’t want to oversimplify it. But there are several things that Congress ought to consider when they craft this legislation:


1. Congress should consider the children: Children are in a special category. We protect children because they are vulnerable. We oppose laws and policies that put the burden of adherence on children. That’s why we have the DACA policy [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals].


2. Congress should consider our history: The United States has a history of intervention in some of the countries from which refugees are fleeing. We have toppled governments, supported murderous heads of state, aided in the plunder of natural resources. These refugees, to a significant extent, “represent the legacy of American policies that go back decades. After all, it was the United States that financed the infamous US Army School of the Americas and trained genocidal warlords, such as Efraín Ríos Montt, who went on to destabilize all of Central America. If countries like Guatemala and Honduras have fallen into chaos since the 1980s, it’s partly because those wars took a toll on their social structures: the trauma of families wiped out and entire villages disappeared. The refugees at our southern border are part of the blowback from the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people still seeking safety from US-financed violence.” (Patricia Williams, The Nation, June 20, 2018.)


3. Congress should consider the ways in which the United States continues to support violence and inequality in the countries from which refugees come: The United States has a responsibility, not just because we are a rich country, but because we are on the demand end of the drug trade and the supply end of arms dealing. This flow of drugs and arms is inherently destabilizing and has to be addressed.


4. Finally, when drafting legislation, Congress should consider the facts: Our president and many other politicians have tried to make immigration appear to be our country’s greatest problem. They have lied about crime statistics, even lied about the crime statistics here in Germany; lied about the numbers of people entering the U.S.; and denied the economic and social contributions made by immigrants.


So what should we do now? First, let’s monitor the situation to see if the children already separated are all re-united with their parents. Then, let’s see how long whole families are incarcerated – more than the twenty-day limit for children? And then let’s follow the money: Which private companies own the detention centers and the foster-care services? Let’s not look away when we need to watch.


And let’s not be paralyzed when we need to act.


Make your voice heard: Risk talking with your conservative relatives. If you’re on Facebook, post thoughtful opinions and share informative articles there. Don’t be afraid of preaching to the choir – sharing information and encouraging one another makes us stronger and more effective. Write a letter to your hometown paper. And write your Senators and Representatives regardless of their positions. If you can call them, tell them that you’re making a long-distance call because that’s how important this is to you.


Organize: Join a political group where you live. In Berlin – Democrats Abroad, American Voices Abroad, or The Coalition. Reach out to political groups in the U.S., and if you can, donate. And don’t forget our German allies.


Vote: It’s easy to register and cast your ballot from abroad.


Remember, we are not alone. We stand here today in solidarity with thousands of people at hundreds of protests all over the United States. We stand with MoveOn, the ACLU, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. We are all mobilizing to demand an end to human rights abuses at the border.


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