The final week of August memorializes the fifty-fifth anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ address. Prophetically, Dr. King presented a moral appeal to the nation for it to enact the reality of the Beloved Community in its systems, institutions, laws, policies, practices, and societal norms. Just a few years after delivering the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, having identified the nation as being in the midst of revolution, King urged the nation in his ‘Remaining Awake Through the Great Revolution’ sermon the importance of vigilantly remaining awake during the challenges of revolutionary change.
The fourth week of August also marks the thirteenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. A man made environmental disaster which broadcast long unaddressed racial and class disparities symbolic of those present in American society at large. Indeed, following domestic migration, the survivors and victims of Hurricane Katrina, American citizens, were characterized as ‘refugees.’ Under this concomitant union of race and poverty were the survivors rendered to a dominant cultural translation as refugee and criminalized accordingly. Both the Danizinger Bridge and Henry Glover cases as well as the reluctance of many states to accept the survivors, reveal the criminalization, exclusion, vigilantism, and physical violence to which many New Orleanians and Southeastern Louisianans were subject.
And today, as then, refugee and asylee status has been criminalized on the national stage. Globally no new song and dance, this extreme political polarization seeped in nationalism has rendered current immigration policies and regulations in violation of domestic and international law. These and other policies threaten the fabric of democratic institutions. Yet most concerning is the moral posture of the nation. For the United States is on a precipice of conscience for which consciousness is not only necessary but will determine the future of the nation. Globally it is time to remain awake.
Spring of 2018 U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a Zero Tolerance immigration policy. The Sessions Zero Tolerance immigration policy enacted broad prosecution of migrants charged with illegal entry – regardless of status, claim, or the apparent need for family unity, a concept so fundamental to U.S. immigration law. The Sessions approach further eradicates the prosecutorial discretion guidelines set forth by the Obama Era Johnson memo.
However, most concerning, as a deterrence component, the Sessions policy mandated the separation of children from families during the immigration detention process. Not commonly utilized by previous U.S. executive administrations, the policy of child separation during the detention process then became standard practice.
Following the enactment of the policy, attorneys, legal workers, and news reports confirmed that children, some nursing infants and tender age minors, were in fact separated from their families. Reports also confirmed that the practice is utilized against all migrants in apparent violation of immigration law, including asylum seekers with a facially legal valid credible fear which is protected under international law. As a result, hundreds of children have been separated from their families. Disturbingly, mass prosecution hearings have been held in which parents can be heard pleading for reunification with their children. The policy of child separation stoked national outrage, protest, litigation, public confrontation of government leaders, and international condemnation. Psychologists have categorized the separation practice as a form of child abuse which may cause irreversible trauma. International organizations characterize the policy with regard to asylees as in violation of international law. U.S. Catholic Bishops and other faith communities have called the policy immoral.
Summer of 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw granted a preliminary injunction filed against the administration and ordered a halt to the separation of families and the reunification of families already separated. To date, the Department of Justice has reported that scores of children are still separated from their parents. Further aggravating, it is reported that some children while separated from their parents have been subject to sexual abuse in the juvenile institutions tasked with their care and protection. A ruling in favor of individual immigrant due process rights could not have been more timely at this juncture of mass criminal hearings and children made party defendants to serious deliberations before immigration judges with no legal representation. Yet the Supreme Court of the United States recently held in the Jennings decision, that under relevant provisions that even mandatory detainees, including asylum seekers, are not entitled to a bond hearing when detention is prolonged.
Many have expressed shock and outrage. Yet a pattern of abuse begets abuse. The Zero Tolerance policy and child separation mandate are the natural and probable result of a Presidential campaign and administration that consistently promulgates an agenda of separation and hate against women, minorities, religious minorities, indigenous peoples, immigrants, the environment, persons with disabilities, the lgbtq community, and the poor. That the Commander in Chief at one point bragged about sexual assault of women is a precursor to violence and violent policies. Essentially, the result can only be but violence. This dynamic reflects what studies have increasingly revealed: that violence against women has a direct link to societal violence. Indeed, coupled with the policy of child separation, the Sessions Department of Justice severely restricted asylum eligibility for those, primarily women, fleeing domestic abuse and gang violence. That all of these things offend decades of legal precedents, the Constitution, and international laws are clear.
However in this age of factlessness and fake news these chain of events are reduced to matter of choice – belief or disbelief. What is more so evident is that we have forgotten we belong to one another as aptly stated by Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Though caught in the inevitable ‘inescapable network of mutuality,’ as Dr. King phrased, we have too long been hypnotized into a falsity of belief that which matters not at all is the bottom line instead of love.
Of course this is not the first time an assault on the very dignity of the human being has occurred throughout American history. Specifically, child separation is a tool of terror that has been utilized against vulnerable populations, those deemed outsiders, less human, or unworthy of Constitutional guarantees. This has occured before, but as a nation we should be resolute to ensure that the current instance is the very last.
At this very pivotal moment nationally, internationally, morally, ethically, and spiritually, it is important to awaken. We must know that not everyone who is calls for greatness once supposedly had- or even Justice, calls for the liberation of all. Many speak of the secondary trauma brought by the current national political dynamics and may be tempted to retreat. However the most effective method to dismantle psychic and societal trauma on a three dimensional plane is to both inwardly and outwardly lance the wound by placing time with in the service of Soul Force and Light which will transform current conditions. Dr. King cautioned against wayward passivity in the form of waiting for the passage of time to resolve urgent and entrenched humanitarian issues, ‘we must honestly admit certain things and get rid of certain myths that have constantly been disseminated all over our nation. One is the myth of time…… There is an answer to that myth. It is that time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively.’ Indeed as Dr. King advanced, in his ‘Letter From A Birmingham Jail,’ we must be thermostats changing the national tone and not thermometers simply absorbing and reflecting the dynamics of our time.
Surely, it can be said that a conscious conscientiousness not cowardice is needed at this time. Under a nationalist government, theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazi regime for active resistance against the then fascist nationalist German government. Bonhoeffer infamously juxtaposed what he termed ‘cheap grace’ versus ‘costly grace.’ Bonhoeffer posited that cheap grace is simply an inactive intellectual principle which requires no change on the part of the individual nor of society. In contrast, Bonhoeffer states costly grace represents an inward place of transformation which “calls” one to change outward conditions in proclamation of Truth. Repeatedly characterizing this type of grace as a call, Bonhoeffer explains that the depth of this call insists that the individual exchange his small separated consciousness in surrender and in use to ‘true life.’ Bonhoeffer argues that it is costly grace which is the catalyst for true ‘discipleship.’ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, not an outsider subject to the direct persecution under the Nazi regime had many opportunities to passively sit out a moral and spiritual crisis of his time both domestically in Germany and while in the U.S. However, Bonhoeffer turned directly to his inner conviction, returned to Germany, was imprisoned for his resistance, and executed shortly thereafter- just weeks before the liberation of the concentration camp in which has was held.
Though this is a dark hour nationally, there is a certain Universal promise patterned on a on the source of light. The indestructible light of the Soul will not only keep us awake during this dark time but outshine the darkness such that it never existed. In this certain Truth, there we find our true indivisible union. And a resistance shored up in the Soul, the very heart and essence of humanity, will transform the world. This presence of body and Soul will reveal an inextinguishable light which refuses to allow a false narrative to prevail. Knowing the truth, we will replace systems with that which reflects the Truth of all Beings.
Dr. King stated that the implementation of Soul Force is the moral mandate to people of benevolent will, ‘And I submit that nothing will be done until people of goodwill put their bodies and their souls in motion. And it will be the kind of soul force brought into being as a result of this confrontation that I believe will make the difference. One day we will have to stand before the God of history and we will talk in terms of things we’ve done.’ Placed upon a path of sacred resistance, Gandhi, the progenitor of the satyagraha or the soul force concept taught that satyagraha is the force of truth which binds the individual within the ultimate source of true strength and power. Let us do the work that we are called by name to do individually and collectively. Let us make our living and actions be a prayer and affirmation. ‘If we will but do it’; if we will but answer the call, we will know joy, glory, and the world lasting peace.
JENIPHER JONES is a Civil Rights Associate Attorney at Nexus Derechos Humanos Attorneys. Jenipher graduated from Bennett College for Women with a B.A. in Political Science. She then attended law school at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law with membership to Maritime Journal, Honor Society, fellowship, and clinical study. Jenipher has worked on the municipal and federal levels addressing law enforcement accountability to the community and employment discrimination matters. She has also worked at a private law firm handling immigration removal defense cases and public policy advocacy. Areas of concentration include civil rights: law enforcement misconduct, employment discrimination, immigration removal defense, and public policy. Committed to the advancement of human rights and ethic of service, Jenipher is a member of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) National Police Accountability Project (NPAP), Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), Southerners On New Ground (SONG), and Colorado People’s Alliance (COPA). Having rescued two dogs while residing in Post-Katrina New Orleans, Jenipher is also an active supporter of animal rescue, rights, and rehabilitation.