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  • Writer's pictureJessalyn

The Oakland Better Birth Foundation's Statement on the Detainment of Refugee Children

I sometimes have the honor of supporting OBBF by articulating our responses to current events in the realm of community, family and child health. When family and child detainment practices at the U.S.-Mexico border became more public knowledge, this was our response.

We are breaking children with a broken system.

Children are being separated from their families and neglected, mistreated and abused at the southern border, where the United States meets Mexico and the rest of Central America. This spring has seen a circus of political buffoonery while Republicans and Democrats argue over the origins of this practice and leverage popular opinion for partisan policies on immigration and defense. Meanwhile, children are also being ripped from their families at the borders of private properties, at apartment doorways, in American hospitals and at our schools. As a nation, we have been using children as literal and political collateral for centuries.

Risking everything, children and their families seek asylum from the violence of drug cartels, poverty, and domestic abuse in their home countries - only to be detained, criminalized, and processed in an expensive, disorganized of spotty paper trails, temporary shelters and foster homes, and potentially many months or years apart, marked by crooked care standards and questionable financial practices by the private and government agencies contracted with our tax dollars to care for these people in need. The United Nations has looked at US border practices in documents dating back to 2009 and have found them objectionably severe and inhumane - the cruelty of the experience is not a matter of debate. Here in the U.S., children and their families are also seeking asylum - from extreme poverty, multi-generational trauma, the stresses of daily, immense structural racism and violence, and criminal inequity. They too face a slow and sometimes brutal process - be it through inequitable family courts, blindly dispassionate agencies and service providers, or even the for-profit prison industry. It can be nearly impossible to navigate - and those who do so face more racism, mistreatment and multi-level corruption along the way.

The similarities of these funnels are all too clear to the doulas and community members of the Oakland Better Birth Foundation. We pray for the children and families suffering under some of the worst immigration practices in the modern world, we dedicate our daily work to the liberation and wellness of all families, and we recognize that criticisms of US policy in this area are also appropriate in examining how our government manages child, family and public health in general - particularly when the public in question is majority poor and majority people of color.

Across national lines, neighborhood lines, district lines, race lines, language and class lines, children are being separated from their parental family and fed through a broken system. Yes, it is horrifying to think that we greet desperate families, from infants to grandparents, with a refusal of legal entry to our country and threats of forced separation and imprisonment should they attempt the alternative - while what remains at home for many of these families is at the very least violence and crime, and very likely for many, death. And yet it is not a new reality, this place between hardness and a rock. In local neighborhoods, families are plagued with problems symptomatic of toxic capitalism - costs of living are unsustainably high; lending and crediting companies are predatory; addiction and abuse rates soar in communities who have suffered decades of disenfranchisement and destabilized economies; for-profit racism acting as colonialism, as invasion, as rape, as disease, as slavery - has devastated millions of people over many generations, from today’s Black Americans dealing with the chronic health impacts of collective PTSD and stress to the First Nations communities fighting to keep their traditions alive under years of land loss, lawless business manipulation, alcoholism, and abusive “re-education”.

As doulas and care providers, we who serve the people of Oakland, California see, hear, and support families in crisis. Sometimes a crisis is a need for nutritional guidance and cooking lessons because a young single parent who was raised in foster care never received a healthy model for feeding themselves and their child. Sometimes, it is as simple as helping to arrange a ride to a medical appointment. But sometimes, and far too often for a nation as well-resourced and wealthy as the United States, a crisis is much worse, and the people in our home community are facing issues as life-or-death powerful as those of the desperate folks at our borders. Our domestic solutions for domestic challenges, from Child Protective Services to police intervention and family court, are riddled with inefficiency, abuse, racism and trauma - as are the practices of the Department of Homeland Security, as reported by the United Nations and ACLU in the last decade.

Supposedly “well-meaning” ignorant, politically-fueled practices here and at the border separate children from their safest guardians and puts them in the hands of abusers, profiteers and criminals. Lower-income parents are steam-rolled by restrictive judgements and prohibitive expense. Adoption is a multi-million dollar industry, and the foster system that absorbs both immigrant and American “unaccompanied minors” is renowned for dysfunctional dynamics. This is where many of refugees will end up even though their parents are live, willing and able to care for them - or would be if they weren’t arrested for the misdemeanor of illegal border crossing. At home, poor young Black boys who survive early childhood in this system often end up in the hands of the State, much like their Honduran and Guatemalan counterparts camped in tent compounds along the Texan border, treated like adult men in a judicial system that assigns them the criminal guilt of war-sponsored drug cartels, enmeshing them between paths to imprisonment or death. While millionaires line their pockets with the profits of private detention facilities, prop their feet up, and watch, the US Congress and President twist and mangle the present and future lives of thousands; the fate of innocent people, who come to the United States seeking refuge, is being used as a political pawn in the long-game strategy of the corporatist, conservative, elitist powerful few. It’s disgusting, it’s criminal, and merits full investigation and prosecution for the violation of human rights, as per international law.

It is the lived experiences of Oakland, California and hundreds of other American cities that we call in as evidence that this systemic violence - this fascism - is already prominent and permeating American lives. It is in the regulation of our bodies, in the manipulation of our health and corruption of our sovereignty, in the forcible removal of vulnerable individuals and populations from their communities, in the criminal treatment of children, parents and all people who do not blindly obey the protocol and expectations of an industry-led, profit-based economy of violence. We name this truth and raise our voices in solidarity with the people of Central and South America, with First Nations people, with all the families and citizens of Oakland and of California, with all the world, in demanding safe, humane conditions for all children of Earth, no matter country, creed or color, and the righteous adjustment of our system so as to reunite these families and offer all refugees, all citizens, ALL PEOPLE a reasonable, respectful opportunity for support, safety, and resilience from injustice.

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