I will never forget watching a toddler cry out, her faced streaked with tears and frustration as she struggled to embrace her father from behind a thick wall of plexiglass at an immigration detention center. He had fled his country to come to the U.S. without documentation, driven away by poverty and violence in his home town and the hope of building a better future for his children. Can others honestly say they would not respond similarly if born into similar circumstances?
I am deeply concerned about the deportation of potential asylees in our state and throughout the nation and the resulting trauma inflicted upon them and their families. As a public health professional who has had the privilege of working with and learning from immigrants from Central America and Mexico in the Southern U.S. for the past decade, I know the violence many of our neighbors and fellow community members have fled is a serious threat to their health and lives and to those of their children should they be forced to return. This is morally wrong and a violation of human rights.
Although many who have not come into contact with this system may not understand this reality, our immigration laws are a complex web of ineffective policies that tear apart families and ignore our country’s obligations in Central America and throughout the Latin American region. It consistently disappoints me that many Americans remain unaware that in many nations like Guatemala, our government and major U.S. corporations have played a significant historical role in the current dysfunction of the economy and high rates of poverty and crime.
Consider, for instance, the hand that the United Fruit Company and CIA had in the 1954 Guatemalan coup d’état that led to a 34-year civil and the murders of thousands of indigenous Guatemalans at the hands of the CIA-backed Guatemalan military. This essentially destroyed Guatemala’s economy and the potential of the Guatemalan state to respond to its people’s needs, opening many communities up to deep poverty and violent crime rates that continue to drive many families and children to flee to the U.S. – only to be deported back to what could be argued is a death sentence.
I don’t claim to speak for immigrants and their families. They are already working courageously to make their voices heard about the trauma and violence inflicted upon their communities by our inhumane immigration policies. Instead, I ask that other non-immigrants see the urgency of speaking up as allies against the deportation of survivors of violence and terror and recognize this scenario for what it is – a blatant and shameful violation of human rights by one of the most powerful nations in the world.
Human beings have the right to life, safety, dignity, asylum in other countries from persecution and equality before the law. There is mounting evidence that many of those who have fled to the U.S. are being deported prior to thoroughly assessing whether they qualify for asylum, making these latter two violations even more concerning.
Join me and others deeply disturbed and embarrassed by this nation’s growing moral failure. Contact your federal and state legislators and insist that this stop. Demand more of a nation founded by those who were, ironically, seeking safety and a chance to live a peaceful, productive life.
Alyse Lopez-Salm lives in Sanford.