Although I have spent a lot of time with you over the last couple of months, I can’t say that I know you well. Most of my time has been spent outside what they call an emergency influx shelter for unaccompanied migrant teens, right past the Air Force Reserve Base. But I have driven through your streets, and along your fields. I have seen workers in the fields. I have seen houses of the better off, and some more modest. And I have seen the signs that tell us, on the roads, that we are right along the way to visit the Everglades, and the road that leads all the way south to Key West.
But mostly, I and some others have stood outside, mounting a kind of vigil,
outside the gates of a place for which you bear little responsibility, a children’s prison. It is a place that is the result of a kind of evil scheme dreamed up in Washington DC. Here was their idea: if we separate children from the people they came across the border with, we can hold them for a long time in temporary shelters instead of allowing them to join their sponsor families and friends. Why? Well, according to a memo on the subject, it was to send a message to the people of Central America, to show them that their kids would have such a hard time here that they would stay put and face whatever horrors were driving them to leave their homes.
Of course, as we now know, the writers of that memo miscalculated.
The message didn’t work, and, besides, another reason to imprison kids for a long time was discovered. And it was discovered by the same folks who started the growing prison that sits in the middle of your town. They discovered that if they charge enough money for each kid that the longer they keep them behind those green-tarped fences, the more money they could make. Some of those folks, like John Kelly, who used to be head of the Department of Homeland Security, and was later White House chief of staff, even left government and joined up with the for-profit company that runs the place!
Now, I know that a bunch of people in your town work at this prison. It pays better than a lot of other jobs. It beats working at fast food places, and it’s way better than stoop labor. And if you don’t know the story of how this place came to exist, you might think you are just taking care of some kids that need taking care of. You wouldn’t know that the reason they need taking care of is that they were taken away from their friends and families, as if these teens were some kind of criminals. And I know that inside they tell you never to talk to them about what happened to them, how they got here. So, how could you know?
But, as little as I know your town and your community, I know this. That family is very important to you, and if you knew the whole story, you might just be outside the gates of this prison camp, joining us in demanding that it be closed, and that the children be allowed to join with their families.
And, in fact, some of you have told us just that, and joined us.
But, it is hard to get the word out, and the people making all that money inside have louder voices than we do, so you may have heard different stories. For instance, they told the employees one day that we wanted to close the place and deport all the kids. And those employees were encouraged to tell the kids that, too.
So, you can see we have a pretty hard fight on our hands, Homestead. Strong forces, both in the government and in big business, working against us.
Anyway, in case you get to read this, maybe this helps to explain why we are here, and why so many people will gather today, Mother’s Day, to call for freedom for the kids, who need our love.
Joshua Rubin, founder of Witness:Tornillo