I live in a country where millions of people avert their gaze from or even celebrate the jailing of children, torn from their parents and often trafficked across state lines. Apparently it’s acceptable to commit human rights abuses against a population if you’ve already dehumanized them to your supporters, made an exception because as “illegal aliens”, they’re not quite the same category as you or me. And even though it’s not a new phenomenon — take the history of the US, or Nazi Germany, or Rwanda — this is body terrorism.
The Trump regime missed a deadline on Thursday, July 26th to reunite the more than 2,500 children they stole from their families. This failure leaves at least 700 children to be forced to remain in cages at detention centers scattered across the US. Officials have said that 431 of those children’s parents have already been deported. There is still no coherent plan to guarantee that the remaining incarcerated children will ever see their families again.
Even for those children who have been reunited with their families, the signs of their immense psychological stress have already begun to manifest. As Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal has noted from her multiple trips to detention camps, many children appear emotionless when first reunited with a parent, standing still, dissociative, seeming to be in shock as their parent embraces them, before breaking into tears. Others who are very young show signs of not remembering their parents’ faces. Still others have internalized the abusive explanations given to them at the detention centers that their parents abandoned them and no longer want them.
And we don’t even yet know the full extent of the abuse being inflicted daily at these camps, especially as members of Congress have been denied access. Existing complaints and lawsuits against immigrant detention facilities indicate rampant emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, however. Some children have died in these facilities from 1993 onward, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting’s website Reveal.
The emotional abuse inflicted on these innocent children and their families will impact them long-term, child psychologists argue, resulting in depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more. According to Dylan Gee, assistant professor of psychology at Yale University who studies immigrant children separated from their parents, “[A]s many as 30 percent of mental health disorders are related to childhood adversity, highlighting the widespread impact of early trauma on public health.”
From the psychological torture, to the physical toll that detention takes on children’s bodies, it’s a disturbingly easy case to make as to why kidnapping and jailing immigrant children constitute body terrorism. The Trump regime, ICE officials, detention staff, and everyone else complicit in the situation are treating children’s bodies as disposable, fit to sleep on thin mats or directly on concrete floors in unbearably cold conditions.
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As Amy Taxin of the Associated Press writes, “Wet and muddy from their trek across the Mexican border, immigrant children say they sat or lay on the cold, concrete floor of the immigration holding centers where they were taken.”
“It was hard to sleep with lights shining all night and guards kicking their feet, they say,” adds Taxin. “They were hungry, after being given what they say were frozen sandwiches and smelly food.”
In addition, the children report having limited access to drinking water and being overcrowded in cages near dirty toilets. As one of their attorneys, Peter Schey, reported to Taxin, “‘They are terrorized, and I think it is time for the courts and the public to hear their voices.’”
This is the face of body terrorism. Having their personhood and inherent value stripped away as Trump equates immigrant families with the Los Angeles-based MS-13 gang, both as a way to deflect from his crimes and as a way to lump wildly disparate groups together based on their ethnicities and nationalities.
Body terrorism also looks like further terrorizing the bodies of women who have been subjected to domestic violence. These women have often had to flee in the night with their children to another country for safety, only to lose the protection of lawfully seeking asylum.
Body terrorism is telling these women and their children, your pain isn’t enough. What you have survived means nothing to us. You’re the wrong kind of resident here.
When Americans protest en masse in outrage — when 575 women were arrested in D.C. after occupying the Hart Senate Office Building and chanting, singing, and demanding justice for the children, their voices rising in a choir of heartsick love and fiery anguish — their history-making courage and sense of justice are rebuffed with trite excuses, denials, false equivalencies, and lies by this “Christian” administration.
Meanwhile, during his July 24th speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kansas City, Trump’s most recent directive to his base was, “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
“Just stick with us,” Trump had said earlier in his speech.
At a certain point, a line must be drawn in the sand. Committing body terrorism against tearful, traumatized children and their families, without remorse or feeling, is not something I am willing to forgive. No more chances.
Critics of Trump must be willing to argue that he has committed terror. As such, those who continue to stand by him are enabling that terror.
Democrats, then, should not be strategizing around how to win back his base; rather, they, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently did in New York to great effect, should be working on behalf of all marginalized and disenfranchised voters who have been pushed to the wayside by the party’s hesitancy to endorse full-throated progressive policies. In the words of Saikat Chakrabarti, president of Justice Democrats, “Run unapologetically on a bold vision with solutions as radical as the problems our country faces.”
If those in power are going to terrorize the most vulnerable, it’s up to those of us in the US to deploy radical empathy, compassion, and acts of bravery. Only then can we hope to stop the country’s long careen off the tracks.
[Featured Image: A gray scale photo of a child’s face. Source: pexels.com]