Mothers of Exiles: For Many, the Child-Separation Ordeal May Never End

Priti Gulati Cox and Stan Cox

DSC04191 (1)

From the early days of the Trump administration, the White House and Justice Department have obsessively sought to separate asylum-seeking parents from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border. The American people and the courts have mounted fierce resistance to this sadistic practice, but Trump’s men will not be deterred.

Separation continues despite having been officially forbidden by the courts. Last week, the White House announced a desire to revive explicit separation, potentially through this policy described by the Washington Post:

One option under consideration is for the government to detain asylum-seeking families together for up to 20 days, then give parents a choice — stay in family detention with their child for months or years as their immigration case proceeds, or allow children to be taken to a government shelter so other relatives or guardians can seek custody.

That’s a Sophie’s choice, but the authorities are using a less emotional, more technocratic term: “binary choice.”

So Central Americans fleeing mortal danger back home and facing murderous cartels in Mexico may now be forced into deciding between having their children either incarcerated for years or taken away from them, perhaps never to be seen again. They cannot take solace in the possibility that “other relatives … can seek custody.” Even now, relatives applying to become guardians of seized children are themselves being subjected to investigation and possible deportation.

All this is happening to refugees even though they set out on their arduous, dangerous journey simply to claim their rights to asylum hearings as provided under U.S. law. For months, immigrants seeking safety through the legally prescribed mechanism—by presenting themselves at official U.S. border crossings and requesting asylum—have been turned away by border patrol agents (recently supported at some locations by Mexican agents.)

Such refusals are contrary to federal law and have the predictable effect of pushing asylum seekers into covert crossings elsewhere. That exposes them to arrest, and if they have children, to separation.

The “binary choice” policy, if implemented, would almost certainly involve the kinds of coercion that have forced many refugees into giving up their asylum claims, being deported, and leaving their children behind. To accomplish this, officials have intimidated vulnerable parents into signing the so-called Separated Parent’s Removal Form or else tricked them into signing by lying about the purpose of the form, which is often presented to them in English.

Many parents who managed to avoid summary deportation under the original separation policy that was in force last spring still lost contact with their kids thanks to the notoriously careless record-keeping practices of the federal agencies involved.

In a June ruling that struck down separation, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw noted, “The government readily keeps track of personal property of detainees in criminal and immigration proceedings. . . . The unfortunate reality is that under the present system migrant children are not accounted for with the same efficiency and accuracy as property.”

In August, Judge Sabraw added this even starker assessment: “And the reality is that for every parent who is not located, there will be a permanent orphaned child, and that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration.”

As if asylum seekers didn’t have enough to fear, there is a very real possibility that their “permanently orphaned” children could be put up for adoption by strangers. One of the most prominent organizations currently housing children seized by Border Patrol is Michigan-based Bethany Christian Services. Despite its denials, there are growing suspicions that Bethany’s long-term goal is to arrange for many of the separated children to be adopted into U.S. families. (Bethany has received millions of dollars of support from now-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her family.)

The New Yorker’s Sarah Stillman recently told the heart- and gut-wrenching story of Helen, a five-year-old Honduran girl who was taken from her grandmother after they made a perilous crossing of the Rio Grande River in July. While she was being detained, out of any contact with family members, this happened:

According to a long-standing legal precedent known as the Flores settlement, which established guidelines for keeping children in immigration detention, Helen had a right to a bond hearing before a judge; that hearing would have likely hastened her release from government custody and her return to her family. At the time of her apprehension, in fact, Helen checked a box on a line that read, “I do request an immigration judge,” asserting her legal right to have her custody reviewed. But, in early August, an unknown official handed Helen a legal document, a “Request for a Flores Bond Hearing,” which described a set of legal proceedings and rights that would have been difficult for Helen to comprehend. . . . On Helen’s form, which was filled out with assistance from officials, there is a checked box next to a line that says, “I withdraw my previous request for a Flores bond hearing.” Beneath that line, the five-year-old signed her name in wobbly letters.

A month later, Helen was finally reunited with her family. It was a joyful occasion, but the impact of the separation lingers. Stillman writes, “Lately, at bedtime, Helen hides in the closet and refuses to go to sleep, afraid that her family might leave her in the night. Sometimes [her grandmother] Noehmi wants to hide, too; she buried her round face in her hands, weeping, when she recounted one of Helen’s declarations upon her return: ‘You left me behind.’”

Among the documents from Helen’s months in detention that the family received upon her release was a page from a coloring lesson she’d been given. The caption of the cartoon-style sketch read, in Spanish, “Objective: That the students draw one of the most representative symbols of the United States.” The sketch was of the Statue of Liberty.

In her 1883 poem “The New Colossus,” Emma Lazarus gave the name “Mother of Exiles” to what we now call the Statue of Liberty. That monument stills stands for the principles it has always stood for, but the U.S. government’s actions are now guided by the precise opposite of those principles.

The work you see here, embroidered by Priti (and inspired by an extraordinary photograph shot in the McAllen, Texas central bus station by Larry W. Smith), envisions a new Mother of Exiles—not a substitute for, but rather a present-day counterpart to, the great woman in New York Harbor.

This mother holds in her right hand not a torch but her child’s hand; in her left, not a tablet but the arcane government documents that could rip her family apart. And in place of the broken chains that lie at the original Mother of Exile’s feet, she wears a GPS ankle monitor.

Advertisements

A Confrontation With Kobach’s Chamcha (Lackey, in Hindi), Revisited

A week ago Wednesday, I was sitting on the ground on a mat, as I have been doing for the past eight weeks, outside the office of Kansas’ 1st District Congress member Roger Marshall. While making art in rebellion against everything Marshall and his ilk stand for, I have been making that patch of sidewalk my studio.

As I was embroidering a piece that’s intended to draw attention to our government’s sadistic policy of tearing children away from their parents (something that both Marshall and fellow Republican/2018 gubernatorial candidate/voter-suppression poster boy Kris Kobach enthusiastically support), a white F-150 pickup pulled up and parked outside the Republican campaign office, which recently popped up adjacent to Marshall’s hardly-anyone-ever-in-there office.

After loading his pickup with Kobach signs, the twentysomething driver of the pickup walked up and loomed over me for about 20 minutes, delivering a racist, misogynistic tirade, mocking my birth in India and trashing a whole roll-call of Republican targets, including Native Americans, immigrants, and Kobach’s Democratic opponent Laura Kelly.

Kuder

When the guy, after I asked him several times to go away, finally got back in his truck, I wrote down our conversation as best I could from memory. So the exchange below is not exact quotes, but rather paraphrased:

He introduced himself, but I didn’t catch the name. Then he asked who I was.

> Is that a real name, ‘Pretty’?

It’s not ‘Pretty,’ it’s Priti.

> What are you doing here?

I’m demonstrating against our government’s domestic and foreign policies… police brutality, attacks on immigrants, the war on Yemen —

> — If you’re going to talk about Yemen then you need to talk about South Sudan, Somalia…

Yeah, let’s. We’re arming rebels there. We’re the largest military with bases all over the world.

> What would you have us do?

Stop arming countries like Saudi Arabia. Stop supporting dictators.

> What about when Obama blah! blah! blah!
This isn’t a Democrat or Republican thing. This is about government policies.

> You’re not even from here.

I’m from here. I’m a citizen just as much as you. Are you Native American? We’re all illegal. You. Me.

By now he’d become visibly Republican: red in the face and hovering even closer as I remain seated.

> We’re settlers. You’re speaking about Native Americans? We civilized the Native Americans.

Demonstrating with his foot:

> They they crushed babies with their feet… My uncle was killed by an illegal immigrant in a car accident.

What does that have to do with anything? That’s just one incident. What about when you white people kill people with your cars? Then nothing?

> One illegal is too many. One illegal is too many… Do you have a job?

This is my job. I can sustain myself. Maybe you need hundreds of thousands of dollars of income. I don’t.

> What’s that silly hat you’re wearing?

[I was wearing a ‘pussyhat’]

> You know hundreds, hundreds of women have called the office to show their support for Kavanaugh. Hundreds. They hate women like you… How long do you plan to be here?”

This is apublic sidewalk. I’m making art and have every right to be here.

> To a certain extent.

At this point I just want him to leave so I could continue working on my piece.

But then he reached out his foot and kicked my artwork pattern that was lying on my work-mat beside me.

> What’s this you’re doing?

Stop doing that. Don’t touch that with your foot. Please leave. Go.

Then in a sing song voice, he says:

> No, ha! ha! ha! I just want to see what you’re do-ing.

He continued to touch the pattern with his foot. I thought, Isn’t it ironic that he’s using the same foot to kick my artwork that he used to describe barbaric acts that he claimed were committed by indigenous people of this land.

Then he walked around to the other side, and looked at my embroidery.

> The message is good, but…

He apparently had not grasped that it was a work inspired by my horror at the treatment of immigrants on our southern border.

> … good luck.

He started to walk away.

You need luck more than I do.

> What did you say? Do you mean in the election?

No, generally.

>What are you going to do after the election?

I’ll be here.

> Get a job

You do what you do and I’ll do what I do. What did you say your name is?

John Doe. Good luck.

Then, this past Friday night, my husband Stan and I were on the way to the Salina Art Center to see and hear from Kansas’s great filmmaker Kevin Willmott (co-writer of the recently released BlacKkKlansman), when we spotted the infamous white F-150 parked once again outside Republican headquarters. The office door was open, lights were on, so we went in and were met by the man whom I’d encountered ten days earlier.

IMG_4797

The only information we could glean from the contentious conversation that followed was the guy’s first name, but I took a video of the conversation (during which he confirmed that he was the guy who had confronted me earlier; he then repeatedly threatened, for some reason, to call the police). Twenty-four hours of local crowdsourcing (thank you, fellow Salinans!) identified this Republican operative as one Kerrick Kuder.

Recalling his racist rant a week ago Wednesday, I believe that working for the likes of Kris Kobach and Roger Marshall is an excellent fit for young Kerrick.

A Confrontation With Kobach’s Chamcha (Lackey, in Hindi)

See also at CounterPunch

IMG_4763

As I write this, Kris Kobach, the ‘He Was Trump Before Trump’ Republican nominee for Governor of Kansas, along with Donald himself, are getting ready for a rally in Topeka at the Kansas Expocenter. Kobach’s campaign manager and chamcha (pronounced chum-cha) @jrclaeys tweeted recently in regard to the rally:

J.R. Claeys 🇺🇸 on Twitter: It's gonna be YUGE! #ksleg #RemainRed #MAGA https:t.co:bsLQurDr7m (1)

As you can see Claeys’ chamchagiri (lackeyness) extends from ‘Trump Before Trump’ to ‘Trumpier Trump.’

Last Wednesday, I was sitting on the ground, on a mat, as I have been doing for the past eight weeks outside Kansas’ 1st District Rep. Roger Marshall’s office embroidering a piece that’s intended to draw attention to one of our government’s many egregious policies, a white pickup pulled up and parked outside the Republican campaign office that has popped up adjacent to Marshall’s hardly-anyone-ever-in-there office.

After loading his pickup with Kobach signs, the driver of the pickup walked up and loomed over me for about 20 minutes and delivered a racist, misogynistic tirade, mocking my birth in India and trashing a whole roll-call of Republican targets, including Native Americans, immigrants, and Kobach’s Democratic opponent Laura Kelly.

When the guy, after I asked him several times to go away, finally got back in his truck, I wrote down our conversation as best I could from memory. So the exchange below is not exact quotes, but rather paraphrased:

He introduced himself, but I didn’t catch the name. Then he asked who I was.

> Is that a real name, ‘Pretty’?

It’s not ‘Pretty,’ it’s Priti.

> What are you doing here?

I’m demonstrating against our government’s domestic and foreign policies… police brutality, attacks on immigrants, the war on Yemen —

> — If you’re going to talk about Yemen then you need to talk about South Sudan, Somalia…

Yeah, let’s. We’re arming rebels there. We’re the largest military with bases all over the world.

> What would you have us do?

Stop arming countries like Saudi Arabia. Stop supporting dictators.

> What about when Obama blah! blah! blah!

This isn’t a Democrat or Republican thing. This is about government policies.

> You’re not even from here.

I’m from here. I’m a citizen just as much as you. Are you Native American? We’re all illegal. You. Me.

By now he’d become visibly Republican: red in the face and hovering even closer as I remain seated.

> We’re settlers. You’re speaking about Native Americans? We civilized the Native Americans.

Demonstrating with his foot:

> They they crushed babies with their feet… My uncle was killed by an illegal immigrant in a car accident.

What does that have to do with anything? That’s just one incident. What about when you white people kill people with your cars? Then nothing?

> One illegal is too many. One illegal is too many… Do you have a job?

This is my job. I can sustain myself. Maybe you need hundreds of thousands of dollars of income. I don’t.

> What’s that silly hat you’re wearing?

[I was wearing a ‘pussyhat’]

This is a public sidewalk. I’m making art and have every right to be here.

> To a certain extent.

At this point I just want him to leave so I could continue working on my piece.

But then he reached out his foot and kicked my artwork pattern that was lying on my work-mat beside me.

> What’s this you’re doing?

Stop doing that. Don’t touch that with your foot. Please leave. Go.

Then in a sing song voice, he says:

> No, ha! ha! ha! I just want to see what you’re do-ing.

He continued to touch the pattern with his foot. I thought, Isn’t it ironic that he’s using the same foot to kick my artwork that he used to describe barbaric acts that he claimed were committed by indigenous people of this land.

Then he walked around to the other side, and looked at my embroidery.

> The message is good, but…

He apparently had not grasped that it was a work inspired by my horror at the treatment of immigrants on our southern border. 

> … good luck.

He started to walk away.

You need luck more than I do.

> What did you say? Do you mean in the election?

No, generally.

>What are you going to do after the election?

I’ll be here.

> Get a job

You do what you do and I’ll do what I do. What did you say your name is?

> John Doe. Good luck.

Neither Kobach nor J. R. Claeys offices have responded to my email inquiry about who exactly it was that confronted me last Wednesday.

Forty eight hours later…

HT3… a Manmade Tale protest…

WP_20181005_16_20_54_Pro… outside @RogerMarshallMD office, Friday October 5…

HT1… a Kobach bus pulls up & parks illegally in front of the adjacent Republican campaign office…

HT4… where two Manmade’s get in character…

WP_20181005_15_39_12_Pro… of a not-so-dark-&-distant-future…

HT5… where whatever’s left of American democracy…

HT6… is going to go to hell…

HT9… in the land of the Manmade Tale…

HT10… sipping brews and cocktails called Make America Wade Again

hqdefault

… in the land of another Manmade Oath.

J.R. Claeys 🇺🇸 on Twitter: ‘Merica! 🇺🇸…

Good luck, indeed!