On Oct. 24, six protesters were arraigned in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. The protesters — Howard Gale, Jennifer Gosar, Elizabeth Graham, Nikita Minkin, Nick Peda and Jessie Yadlowsky — were arrested Aug. 6 while waiting for Sen. Maria Cantwell to take a stance and public role in ending ongoing abuses at U.S. detention camps.
The U.S. government has held a record number of migrant youths in federal custody this year, according to a report from the public TV show “Frontline” in partnership with the Associated Press.
The number of children detained away from their parents in the U.S. is the highest of any country, United Nations researchers note, per the same report.
It is in this context that the protesters were arrested and charged with failing to comply with official directives to disperse from Cantwell’s office.
The Cantwell team appears to see civil disobedience as more objectionable than taking a stand against policies and procedures that separate and divide migrant families.
This occurs as even the federal government admits that detention can be traumatic for children and cause long-term psychological and physiological maladies.
A report published in September from the inspector general’s office in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services observed the children, “many already distressed in their home countries or by their journey, showed more fear, feelings of abandonment and post-traumatic stress symptoms than children who were not separated.”
The President Donald Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy also impacted many youth who needed emergency psychiatric care to address the effects of toxic stress and who consistently grapple with night terrors, separation anxiety and difficulty concentrating. Likewise, these adverse childhood events may lead to chronic disease in adulthood, including higher likelihoods of depression, hypertension and heart disease.
A day prior to the arraignment of the six Seattle-based activists, Cantwell’s office released a letter about her office’s attempts to ameliorate the “abhorrent conditions” migrants find themselves in at the detention camps and goes on to note that the legislation she has co-sponsored is meant to improve conditions for those in custody.
Yet at no point has Cantwell’s office indicated that it is a gross human rights violation to detain migrants who are, literally, following rule of law by presenting in person at border entry points to petition for asylum. A subsequent email with her 2020 election plan does not even list immigration as a “progressive priority.”
It seems the senator misunderstands the point of the protest — and seems not to care, let alone have any urge to take action for these children.
Cantwell must do better. History will reflect the harm of her inaction.
Oscar Rosales grew up in the Yakima Valley and is a Master of Social Work student at the University of Washington. He has previously contributed to HistoryLink.org and the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project.
Read the full Nov. 27 - Dec. 3, 2019, issue.
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