U.S. Concentration Camps at the Border
The conditions at the United States immigration detention facilities are appalling. Seven children have died in the past year while in U.S. immigration custody or shortly after being released. Lice are rampant, the stench unbearable, and children have not had the opportunity to shower since they crossed the border days or weeks before. Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier, after visiting a facility in McAllen, Texas, described a situation where children were subjected to “extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food.”
While the news of forced family separation and the treatment of children helped bring national attention to the problem, the maltreatment and lack of rights is not limited to children. Recently the government’s own Inspector General’s report found detention centers along the Southern border were even more squalid and overcrowded than previously reported. According to one report, migrants in a facility in Clint, Texas who did not have a working sink were told to drink out of the toilet. When Johana Medina León, an HIV+ transgender woman and asylum seeker from El Salvador, died after numerous unsuccessful requests for proper medication she was the first of three immigrants in three days to die in custody at the border. While LBGT and immigration activists see this as another example of criminal negligence, a local ICE enforcement director saw it as an “example of an individual who illegally enters the United States with an untreated, unscreened medical condition.” As anyone, most of all an official at the border, should know entering the country to request asylum is perfectly legal. The recent revelation of extreme sexist and racist comments, and bragging of neglect of immigrants on a closed Facebook page for immigration officials should come as no surprise.
As the journalist Shaun King points out, this cruelty is not accidental, it is the point. The U.S. has consistently pursued a policy of deterring immigration by making its potential consequences life-threatening, for example by directing immigration routes to the most dangerous areas of the desert. At the same time, the state seeks to criminalize its own citizen’s humanitarian efforts. For example, for the simple act of providing food, water and shelter to migrants, Scott Warren of No More Deaths/No Más Muertes faced three felonies and 20 years in prison. The first attempt to convict Warren ended with a hung jury, but the state has decided to pursue a retrial.
Movements Arise in Protest
The Boston employees of online furniture retailer Wayfair walked out of work on Wednesday the 26th of June to protest the company’s sale of furniture to the migrant detention facilities at the border. The company had received a contract for $200,000 worth of bedroom furniture for the nonprofit BCFS which operates detention facilities for the Department of Health and Human Services. The workers of Wayfair declared in a letter: “The US government and its contractors are responsible for the detention and mistreatment of hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking asylum in our country – we want that to end.”
The city of Boston continued to lead the fight when around 1,000 Jewish activists and their supporters shut down traffic in the heart of the city on the night of July 2nd, chanting the slogan “Never Again!” One activist told the Boston Globe, “For Jewish activists who are using the phrase ‘Never Again,’ it’s because we know what happens when we stand by and allow atrocities to unfold without speaking out.”
This comes after the action taken in New Jersey on Sunday the 30th of June, where 36 Jewish activists were arrested outside Elizabeth Detention Center, a privately operated ICE detention center housing undocumented migrants. The action was organized alongside the immigrant rights group Movimiento Cosecha. Officers arrested the protesters who shut down access to staff parking lots. The protesters expressed discontent with the racist policies of the Republican administration and with the Democratic party for passively offering no resistance.
Finding a Way Forward
The Republicans and Democrats would like nothing more than for us to accept this state of affairs. They would like us to sit quietly and take no action while we patiently wait until election day. The impact that the activist movement described above has had on the national dialogue however, illustrates the merits of a more active approach.
The employees of Wayfair have shown us the power of workers. Since workers are the source of profit, by collectively refusing to fulfill this role they can make a powerful statement in a society in which profit drives everything. Their impact highlights to them the power which they possess as workers, making them more willing to flex that power in the future.
The protest movements in Boston and New Jersey show the importance of solidarity between oppressed groups. These Jews drew upon their history as scapegoats for the contradictions of capitalist society to deliver the powerful message that they would not stand by as other groups fall to the same fate. “Divide and conquer” has always been the most effective strategy of the ruling class, and this movement exhibits the power of not letting them use it.
All of these movements have gone beyond the safety of sanctioned forms of protest, and their impact has been much greater because of it. If we want to abolish ICE, it will take more than voting to do it. It will require that we take to the streets. And in that fight, we should also examine the role of artificial borders, the U.S. military interventions and economic policy, and the man-made catastrophic climate change that are creating masses of refugees.
Socialists seek to engage with these struggles, to build them alongside those affected and their allies, and to develop strategies in cooperation with these movements which will allow them to win.