For almost four years in office and since the day he announced his campaign, Donald Trump has systematically dehumanized immigrants. He degrades them with his words and persecutes them with his actions. He has elevated Stephen Miller, a white nationalist, to a position of overseeing all of America’s immigration system, and put anti-immigrant zealots like Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli, neither of whom were appointed legally or confirmed by the Senate, in positions of power.
They have set the tone, the policies and the permission structure. And now, after a sustained campaign of treating immigrants and refugees as less than human, we learn of allegations that women’s bodies are being violated without their permission at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia.
What has been the response from Irwin and from DHS? Just yesterday, Pauline Binam, a Cameroonian immigrant who arrived in the U.S. at age 2 and is the mother of a U.S. citizen middle-schooler, was put on flights to deport her. Fortunately, she was taken off of a flight at Chicago’s O’Hare airport after members of Congress like Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Pramila Jayapal intervened.
But this is far from an isolated case. As Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) said in a statement:
One woman, Pauline, who was nearly deported this morning, consulted the doctor simply about her menstrual cycle. She was put under for what she was told would be a simple procedure, only to wake up and find that the doctor had removed part of her reproductive organs without her knowledge or consent. Another woman, already deported, apparently went in to see the doctor for a simple condition related to diabetes and ended up having gynecological surgery. Two additional women apparently were shackled to the bed, reported to have had surgical procedures, including one apparent hysterectomy, without any consent.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) explained the significance of this systematic dehumanization in a conversation with Chris Hayes on MSNBC last night:
Being assigned to a detention center, being given a deportation order is a civil action and should not assign you to harm…Women can understand how invasive, how violating a hysterectomy is, particularly an unwarranted one. It deals so much with your personhood. Your worth as a woman. If it is not voluntary. If you have not consulted with your physician…It hit me in my heart, my gut. And I couldn’t imagine Pauline alone, having had this surgery…
Reps. Jackson Lee and Jayapal and a total of 173 House members issued a statement calling for a full investigation into not only the allegations about the Georgia facility, but into the cruelty and neglect of the entire immigration detention system, much of which is subcontracted out to for-profit firms, like the Georgia facility run by LaSalle Corrections.
According to Douglas Rivlin, Director of Communication for America’s Voice:
How low have we sunken that individuals working within our immigration system feel it is OK to perform hysterectomies without consent? How dehumanized have we let immigrants become in our society that we allow this to happen? We know this is not an isolated incident and that throughout our detention system immigrants are abused and neglected, especially Black women like Pauline Binam.
But let’s be clear: this fish rots from the head.
The systematic, ongoing dehumanization of immigrants by the President and his henchmen has created the climate in which serious human rights abuses happen. When the President speaks of an ‘invasion’ or calls immigrants ‘animals’ it has consequences. It is not just lone gunmen who feel empowered to go on killing rampages as in El Paso and Pittsburgh, it is an entire system that views immigrants as less than human. In turn, this gives license to people within the system to treat immigrants as less than human.
As Americans, we used to think of ourselves as a moral compass for the world. If the kind of abuses we are hearing about in our detention system were happening in another country, a sane American administration would be joining a chorus of international human rights groups and the U.N. in denouncing the leaders who allow this to happen.
We all have the power to do something about it. We have the power of our vote. While the Congress is moving swiftly to investigate these and other abuses, we know that the only way to truly change the conditions and to reject the moral depravity that allows this to happen is to remove the President and his henchmen from office. Then we can begin the process of healing the United States from the trauma that is the Trump presidency.