Imagine being locked up in a cage, surrounded by unfamiliar and threatening people who speak a different language, have different faces, act in different ways than you’re used to.
Imagine being forced to sleep on the floor in the extreme cold, with bright lights shining on you twenty-four hours a day.
Imagine having little to no access to bathroom and shower facilities, soap, and clean water.
Now imagine you’re seven years old. You’re locked up in here for reasons you can’t comprehend. When you ask for food, you’re given instant noodles. When you ask to see a doctor, your request is denied.
Some of the guards try to be nice to you. Others treat you like an animal. You’re seven years old, seven, and you’re not sure what you’ve done to warrant this treatment. All you know is that you’re fleeing home because your mother was killed in the war and your father promised you a better life, a safe life, in this place called America, this wealthy nation where your dreams of equality and fairness can come true, but you don’t even know where your father is anymore because the guards took him away and left you alone.
A guard thrusts an infant into your arms and tells you to take care of her. You have no idea how to deal with a crying, screaming child because in many ways you still are one yourself. You ask for advice. You ask for diapers and other childcare necessities. But the guard can’t – or won’t – help you. You wonder how your mother took care of you when you were this small. She’s dead now.
Within a week there’s a flu outbreak in the facility. There is no doctor, no medicine, no healthy food or water. A young child dies, and the guards take her away. It could be you next.
The next day another guard comes by and offers you a deal. He says he’ll give you extra food if you help keep the other children in line. You’re starving, so you accept – but now you’re socially isolated for the betrayal, for the unfairness. What little relationship you had with the rest of the children has now disintegrated. You gave it up in exchange for cup noodles and water.
You ask the guards how long you’ll be here, but they don’t know.
You ask where your father is. They don’t know.
You ask where you are.
“The United States of America,” they tell you.
When I wake up and turn on my phone, articles like this one from the Associated Press and this one from ABC fill my newsfeed. I read one after another about the state of our immigration detention facilities. I read about the situation of hundreds of separated migrant families and how their children are being treated. And I’m appalled. Disgusted, even. But I’m not surprised.
I’m not surprised, because it’s still relatively easy to go out into the street and find someone seething with hatred and bigotry. It’s still easy to find someone who believes that “illegal aliens” are pouring into “our” country to commit crime and steal all of “our” jobs. It’s still easy to find someone who believes that immigrants deserve this kind of appalling treatment, or worse. It’s still easy to find someone who believes that the first thing to do is kill all of the Mexicans and all of the gays and all of the people who aren’t cishet WASP males, because then, only then, will America be truly the land of the free and the home of the brave.
I’m sick and tired of meaningless hatred. But I live in a country that feeds off of it every day.