Nothing but darkness

“I don’t say this lightly, but EOIR has demonstrated that they need to be gutted and rebuilt from the ashes. I’ve never witnessed an utter lack of concern for people like I have here. In my former life, we captured Taliban and ISIS with more humanity. Moreover, I’ve never seen worse leadership. A crisis usually brings good and bad to the light. We have nothing but darkness.”

These are the words of an Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) judge and U.S. Military Veteran, referring to the horrific conditions to which immigrants held in ICE detention centers are being subjected during a global pandemic.

The stories that have come to light regarding these facilities have been ghastly beyond words. Women in ICE detention centers without access to medical care, forced to create their own face masks out of sanitary pads. Toxic chemicals being used multiple times per day to disinfect facilities, causing bleeding and pain, with some detainees alleging that such chemicals are being sprayed directly at them. A report near the end of April stating that 60 percent of ICE detainees tested were positive for coronavirus due to the cramped and unsafe conditions of detention facilities. Another report that a mind-boggling 20% of Guatemala’s COVID-positive population at one point consisted of immigrants deported from the United States.

In the late August aftermath of Hurricane Laura, it was reported that families were being held at LaSalle and Jackson Parish detention centers with sewage flooding into their cells, no electricity and dangerous heat levels.

And the most recent, and possibly most harrowing addition to this despicable list comes in the form of ICE performing forced sterilizations on women at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia.

“Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy – just about everybody,” says nurse-turned-whistleblower Dawn Wooten in a story from the Guardian. “That’s his specialty, he’s the uterus collector. Everybody’s uterus cannot be that bad.”

“When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies,” said one detainee.

I’m not going to mince words here. Forced sterilization is an act of genocide.

It is a crime against humanity that has no place in any civilized nation, but which nevertheless finds itself deeply ingrained throughout our history. Whether it’s been Black women forcefully sterilized without anesthesia, the “asexualization” of “undesirables” that later went on to inspire Nazi eugenics, or various other instances of this heinous practice against the poor, the disabled, and People of Color in particular, it’s time for us to own up to the facts.

This is who we are. This is who we’ve always been. This is who we have chosen to be.

People like me tend to get attacked for bringing up the many atrocities of our nation’s history (which is quite ironic, since the ones doing the attacking usually place the so-called “achievements” of our ancestors on a pedestal to be uncritically worshiped and emulated.)

But you’ve no likely heard the idea that those who ignore history are destined to repeat it. Well the horrific, shameful truth is, the sins of our past aren’t history. That’s because they’ve never stopped. They are ongoing, pervasive, and strip away any right this nation has to say that it is or has ever been great.

Perhaps we could be a great nation, if we wanted to be. If we acted with empathy toward those who look, sound, live, love, or pray differently from ourselves. If we internalized the notion that every human life is as important as our own, and that no individual should be reduced to an “illegal” due to life circumstances that are no fault of their own (and which, in far too many cases, are the product of U.S. imperialism and our lust for endless war.)

We could be great if we wanted to. We could be a light to the rest of the world. But until we put a stop such wanton acts of inexhaustible cruelty, we truly have nothing to offer but darkness.

Aaron Dunbar



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