Burns Statement on the Human Rights Crisis at the Border

The W. Haywood Burns Institute (BI) was founded on principles of human dignity and fair treatment for communities of color that are too often subject to policies and practices that are steeped in racialized institutional social control. The current immigration crisis represents this nation’s continuing tragic history of formally justifying inhumane treatment and the cruelty of “the other.” Beginning with the genocide of Native Americans and the barbaric enslavement of African people, the country has developed a playbook for how it engages communities of color. This sad predictable script begins by using false and exaggerated claims to create threats to national safety and exploit those threats to gin up fear of “savages” “rapists” “gangs” “super predators” “coolies” “anchor-babies” and “terrorists”.

When the hysteria reaches the correct pitch, an authority figure, in this case the President of the United States, normalizes unconscionable acts by saying “these aren’t people, these are animals” thereby unleashing violent racialized oppression with little regard for long term consequences.

The current iteration of this too familiar playbook is falling on asylum seekers from Mexico, Central America and Arabs that practice Islam. Mainstream and social media have well documented cruelty involving thousands of children being separated from parents, “disappeared” without due process and prevented from the basic nurturing necessary for infants and toddlers to thrive. The tsunami of racism, intolerance, dehumanizing language, family disruption and separation provide real world evidence of what racialized oppression looks like today. We need only look to our nation’s recent past to understand that this level of familial trauma will have catastrophic consequences for generations. The need for health and healing services will reveal themselves soon enough and the predictable failure to deliver them will lead to more stress and morbidity for communities of color.

The BI forcefully opposes these policies and rejects any rationale for their existence. Indeed, they are shocking and visible demonstrations of the more mainstream uses of state sanctioned family and community violence. The overuse of foster care, mass incarceration and the racial and ethnic disparities present therein must be considered part of this continuum. We must examine this current crisis in the context of all instruments of social control and the destruction and trauma that communities of color confront daily.

The BI believes we must combat the structural and institutional racism that cause the existence and implementation of these deplorable policies and practices. Regardless of political party or affiliation, we know the origins of our country’s social and legal fabric are ingrained in the targeted and inhumane treatment of communities of color.

The BI believes that the root causes of state sanctioned violence must be confronted. We support challenging the existence and mission of ICE, increasing the capacity of rapid and quality legal services, providing health and healing services and forever ending the separation of children from parents and families. The BI fully supports any individual, collective, institution, network and advocacy organization committed to fighting for justice, fairness and equity for all of humanity.

The echoes of the cries of our ancestors that were the previous recipients of similar acts of cruelty must be heard and inform our voices and actions of defiance. This country is in transition as we now have the first minority white generation and it is clear that those in power intend to use draconian policies to maintain power. Let us not forget that our future is at stake and worth the fight.

Tshaka Barrows, Chief Executive Officer
James Bell, President