Hopkins
Hopkins

As I scan the news headlines these days I am beyond saddened to read about the detention camps where children – some as young as five and under – are continuing to be kept prisoner. They have been forcefully, separated from their parents, whose “crime” was trying to escape danger and destitution and find a better life for themselves and their children. Innocent children and their parents are paying the price for a flawed immigration policy being administered in our name.

In June, the president signed a reversal of the policy, ending family separation but as reported by the Washington Post on Aug. 30, 497 children are still separated from their parents, 22 of them aged four and younger.

Do you remember when your children were four? Younger? I do. Just last week my elder daughter turned 31. Every year around this time I am reminded of my solo walks around Queen Anne with my brand new baby. The golden beauty of the season and of my new neighborhood helped me to both heal from her birth and adjust to this miraculous shift in my life.

From the moment I became a mother, eventually to another daughter four years later, my overriding instinct was to protect them. To nourish them, hold them when they cried, celebrate with them when they succeeded. I was driven to be there when they needed me and even when they didn’t. To be denied this basic instinct would have been unimaginable.

Images on Google of the detention camps show kids piled together in dismal rooms, sleeping on floors, covered only in those crinkly, silver emergency blankets, reportedly cold at night and inadequately nourished. One particularly devastating image is of a young child sucking on a bottle filled with orange liquid. A baby. There are reports of psychotropic drugs being given to children to keep them calm, of sexual abuse, of suicide attempts among the teens.

While that is rolling around in your brain for a minute, think about this: certain companies are profiting handsomely from all of this.

According to an article by Eyes on the Ties, the online news site of Public Accountability Initiative and LittleSis, GEO Group and CoreCivic are among the for-profit prison companies that are benefiting from these detention centers. Contractors such as MVM and General Dynamics provide support services, IT, transportation, case management and logistical services. Wall Street Banks, in particular Wells Fargo, the largest underwriter for GEO Group and Core Civic according to Eyes on the Ties, is joined by JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, BNP Paribas, Sun Trust and U.S. Bancorp and money managers, BlackRock and Vanguard in financing and investing in all of these companies.

The New York Times reported that it costs upward of $750 a day per child in the Tornillo Texas facility alone, just one of several in the U.S. The president is requesting more beds and a tripling of the Tornillo Texas Center’s capacity. As I write this, the number of children being held in the U.S. is 12,800, up from 2,400 in May 2017.

I remember studying the Holocaust in high school and wondering how it could have happened. How could people have gone along with it?  The railroads, the postal service, the contractors who built the camps, the military. Didn’t anyone among them see the wrongness of what was happening? I realize that I was simplifying it as an idealistic high school student, but really — how did that happen?

“Profiteers such as GEO Group and CoreCivic need to be named, shamed, and pressured directly as they begin to reap the spoils of prolonged family incarceration. But beyond that, the political, social, and financial relationships on which they depend need to be targeted and disrupted,” according to the article in Eyes on the Ties.

It’s the second part of that quote that helps assuage my feeling of helplessness. We can do our homework and learn if any company we have ties with is involved in any way. And then pull our support of those companies and let them know why we are doing so. It’s a start. And it sends a clear message.

Imagine the agony of the children who are missing their parents and lacking the ability to understand what is happening. Such a thing defies understanding even to my adult mind but all a child knows is that Mama doesn’t answer when she cries out. And let’s not forget the agony of parents who do not know where or how their babies are. Who are denied their basic instincts and obligations as mothers and fathers. Do you think these poor immigrants feel any less than you would in the same circumstances? How can the powers that be justify such treatment?

When we look back on this time years hence, I believe history will liken it to the inhumane and unfair detention of Japanese citizens during WWII.

I don’t want to be a part of that. I’d rather look back and say that I fought it in any way I could. By naming and shaming complicit companies. By protesting. By writing about it. By pulling my support away from complicit companies.

Otherwise, I, too, am complicit. And I can’t live with that.

Irene Panke Hopkins is a freelance writer and essayist, and can be reached at irenehopkins.com.