By Abigail Marin
On Thursday, activists from numerous immigrant rights organizations took the streets of Orange County with a clear demand. We want the county board of supervisors to boot Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) out of here until the 15-year-old federal agency is abolished for good. A diverse crowd met earlier at Morrison Park in SanTana where we gathered to sing, share stories, and speak out on ICE’s unethical tactics of separating families. From there, we made the trek to Theo Lacy facility in Orange where the federal agency detains undocumented immigrants in miserable conditions.
The current crisis of immigration detention is leaving us feeling angry, sad, remorseful, and even numb. Let’s face it, the deportation machine never was about federal security or community safety. ICE owes its existence to anti-immigrant sentiments and will never be about anything else. Under Trump’s administration, xenophobia is amplified and now immigration authorities feel bolder and more empowered to prosecute people unjustly.
Even before United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ so-called “Zero Tolerance Policy,” undocumented immigrants have always been vulnerable to intimidation and abuse. In the past, Trump’s administration made no secret of possibly taking children from their families as a way to impede migrants from seeking sanctuary. Playing with fragile lives to negotiate immigration policy is barbaric. Separating families is never in the best interest for the U.S or the families. Using ICE as a tool for immigration enforcement hasn’t proved cost effective and affects the values that this country is supposed to uphold.
But the controversy over “zero tolerance” is a continuance, not an aberration, of immigration policy in recent years. Yes, the impact of detention and separation on a child’s well-being is emotionally and physically detrimental. We’d be wise to recall, though, that the Department of Homeland Security kept Central American mothers in detention for lengthy periods with their children to act as a deterrent against future migration. Under the Obama administration, many immigrant families were kept in detention for months when they were promised to be released after a few days. In 2016, immigrant women detained with their children at Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania even went out on hunger strike in protest.
Why is it that there’s more of a backlash this time around? Outrages and concerns shouldn’t be focused only children. It’s about their aunts, uncles, parents, and grandparents, too. It’s punitive to re-traumatize individuals that are seeking asylum. We want ICE shut down across the nation. We demand that asylum seekers be respected.
Locally, immigrant advocates demand that the board of supervisors repair the harm caused to undocumented communities. How would that look? The next time we march, it should be to greet the immigrant detainees freed from facilities like Theo Lacy in Orange.