OP-ED: Why I’m Visiting the Border
By Derrick Johnson, NAACP President and CEO
As I ventured to the southern border near Laredo, Texas, I could not help but think about the tragic shootings in El Paso and Dayton, which are stark reminders of the dangers that plague our communities under the resurgence of white nationalism, domestic terrorism, intolerance and racial hatred germinating from the White House.
People of color are feeling less safe today and any day when we see the realities of domestic terrorism and racially-motivated acts of violence.
However, we’ve yet to see any tangible measures and policy initiatives from President Trump, only the repeated dehumanization of people who are the opposite image of what this administration believes Americans should look like.
This is why it was imperative that the NAACP traveled to Texas, not only to raise awareness and visibility of the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the border but to examine the current plight of immigrants that have been demonized and made actual targets of Trump’s hate filled rhetoric.
As I walked through the doors of The Holding Institute – a non-profit community center located in Laredo that is committed to alleviating the cruel and inhumane conditions faced by immigrants – I was told that the facility can service as many as 25-100 people a day. Prior to coming to the facility, all processing documentation is given to people in English, which makes it more likely to be processed inaccurately and not properly vetted.
I heard stories of immigrants from Ghana, Congo, and Angola who traveled to Brazil to assist with the construction for the 2016 Olympics, who were kicked out of their home countries and remain at the border seeking asylum. This was a much-needed reminder that the immigration crisis doesn’t just reside within the Hispanic and Latin American community but touches Black people, and people of color from all over the world.
I met a woman named Maricella who had to leave her teenage daughter in Honduras. She traveled 22 days from her country to the border where she was separated from her 27-year-old son and has not seen him since. She now fears bringing her daughter to the border as most young girls have a high-likelihood of being sold into sex-trafficking.
I was also told a story of a young mother and daughter being held at a nearby detention center, who had not had a warm bath in months and were only allowed one-COLD burrito to eat a day to share between the two of them.
I shook hands with a 13 year-old-boy whose mother told him to make eye contact and shake hands firmly. Even in the midst of horrific living conditions and imprisonment, children at the facility are still being taught to treat people with respect, while being treated less than human.
As a community of people who were ripped away from our homeland 400 years ago, Black America understands the detrimental effects of family separation.
The century that followed our emancipation saw the creation of policies that discriminate against Black people and largely excluded them from wealth building, creating an inherited disadvantage for future generations.
Trump’s handling of the immigration system is racist, petty and inhumane. He is doing all he can to punish immigrants that he believes are undeserving this country and uses this as a rallying cry for his base.
The crisis at the border will now create a new generation of people of color that will be reeling from the discriminatory policies of the Trump Administration.
My heart may have been troubled when I left the facility but our work at the border doesn’t stop here. In the face of this cruelty, the NAACP – as always – is refusing to agonize, and instead, will continue to organize. We will demand that the Trump Administration and Congress:
• Immediately remove the “zero tolerance” and “family separation” policies;
• Limit the time to detain children to 20 days and requires immigration officials to give detained minors a certain quality of life (including food, drinking water, medical assistance in emergencies, toilets, sinks, temperature control);
• Demand appropriate adequate funding to correct the cruel and inhumane conditions of detention centers and alleviate the current hearings backlog, shortage of judges and administrators to discharge asylum petitions;
• Call for a moratorium on deportation raids; and
• Continue to file lawsuits in defense of DREAMERS and on behalf of thousands of hard-working individuals negatively impacted by xenophobia and racist immigration policies
This country was built on the backs of slaves and immigrants. Now is not the time to turn away from the crisis at hand but work to create realistic, sustainable and effective pathways to citizenship for immigrants in America.
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities.