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We have a choice: action or complicity

Every one of us is also guilty of the Trump administration’s criminal family separation policies, unless we are actively working to reverse them. And we can do just that, one ICE employee and elected official at a time.

Dan DeWalt, one of the founders of this newspaper, is a woodworker and teacher at Leland & Gray Union High School. He is a longtime activist for social justice, clean energy, and peace.

Newfane

Asylum seekers legally come to the U.S. to escape persecution and likely death in their home countries.

Upon arriving in some locations, mothers and children are locked into windowless, chilled rooms without sustaining food or water for days. Then the children are kidnapped, taken to undisclosed locations, and dispersed throughout the country without their captors keeping track of where they go — all in the hope of destroying their and their parents’ lives.

All to send a message to other would-be asylum seekers to stay away from the land of the free and the home of the brave.

When we finally learned about this kidnapping, torture, and abuse, the judicial system took some steps to find some of those children and reunite them with their parents. We are learning that many of them have been severely traumatized by the experience. Each one of them will suffer from the effects for the rest of their lives.

On top of this, some number of thousands of children have been “lost,” and the Trump administration tells us that it is just too complicated and expensive for federal workers to find them all.

The nation is reacting with a collective oh-just-another-outrage yawn.

So now, we are all criminals.

* * *

It doesn’t matter how much we have been buffeted by the slings and arrows of outrageous Trump actions. This administration is engaging in crimes against humanity every day. Its victims are parents and children — especially the children.

To become inured to child torture, kidnapping, and disappearance is to be culpable. Unless we are actively working to reverse this situation, every one of us is also guilty of these crimes. Our non-action makes us accessories after the fact.

It’s difficult to think of what we could do. But we could start by seeking out agents from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement at every opportunity.

Engage these agents in a conversation. Ask them if they support kidnapping, abuse, and disappearance of children by their organization.

If you call the ICE field office responsible for Vermont, at 781-359-7511, you might get a message saying, “Mailbox full, goodbye.” So try another office.

ICE agents should be busy fielding probing phone calls all day long. If we keep them busy trying to explain how these crimes against children are justified, they will have to think about their actions and have less time available to carry out their destructive work.

* * *

Rudy Bustamante, ICE’s community relations officer in Arizona (602-200-2215), is willing to talk about these crimes.

As a child, he did migrant farm work with his parents. He has experienced and understands the debasing treatment that these workers face.

He claims to have not witnessed any of the substandard detention practices that are being described in news reports. He also, as of Feb. 9, was not aware of the Trump administration’s recent statement saying that it is too expensive to bother finding all of the children who have been taken from their parents.

It might be useful to give him a call and have a conversation. He is not aware of the reported abuses that would be so alarming to a humane individual, though he clearly seems to be one.

Rudy is one employee who was willing and interested to engage in thoughtful discussion. He needs to be apprised of the facts and made to reconcile his personal morality with the realty of ICE abuses.

So does every other ICE employee.

Let’s try not to demonize ICE agents. Instead, let’s simply hold every one of them accountable for the actions of the Department of Homeland Security.

If we ask hard questions without being abusive, we may be able to induce some doubt and reflection from these agents. If they are not aware of abuses, they must be made aware. If they defend the abuses, they must repeatedly hear clear arguments that make them rethink their position.

* * *

And, even though their reactions thus far have been symbolic and feckless, it is still important to bombard our representatives in the Congress about this same issue. It is all too easy for them to move on to the next big issue and allow unfinished business to lag and be forgotten.

We can ensure that this issue stays in the forefront of politicians’ radar screens. We can ensure that ICE doesn’t get the notion that Americans support their abusive actions. We can ensure that ICE workers have to defend their organization every day and that they know that we are holding them personally accountable for their actions and the actions of the DHS.

Just because an issue is so large that it makes us feel powerless doesn’t mean it is true. Our power is in our numbers, and that power isn’t wielded until all of our numbers start exercising it.

We have a choice here: take action and reach out to ICE and our representatives, or sit back and become criminals ourselves.

If we don’t engage about these crimes against humanity, then we all deserve to end up at the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

If we don’t stand up to Trump, then we deserve to be his cellmate.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #497 (Wednesday, February 13, 2019). This story appeared on page D1.

Links

For a list of ICE field offices and representatives, visit www.ice.gov/contact/oce.

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