Right before Derby last year, I was sitting at work when I got an urgent text message. A member of Mijente Louisville and another from Parents for Social Justice had received a plea from someone at Churchill Downs. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents had approached her, and she was afraid they were going to grab her. She said that they were hovering threateningly.
The Mijente and PSJ members asked if I could put up a public post on my Facebook page so that they could share the information quickly and get other activists to Churchill Downs to observe the ICE agents. I keep my Facebook page semi-public so I can share propaganda and advertise my art. So I said yes, posted the picture they had sent me, and shared it to the activist groups I was in at the time. We got people on the scene at Churchill Downs in half an hour, and a few hours later ICE was gone.
The post went semi-viral, which was good. A lot of people saw it. One man thanked me and told me he would spread the word to his daughters who were in the area. And my heart grew three sizes that day. One woman took umbrage with it, asking how anybody could possibly hover threateningly. And my cynicism about people quickly returned.
A couple activists have taken potshots at me since then, passive-aggressive vaguebooking about “fear-mongering” and “getting people riled up,” but to be honest, I don’t regret it. If anybody from Mijente or PSJ asked me to do it today, I would probably do the same thing in an instant.
The night I wrote this, I got another text message. This one less urgent, more despairing. “I just. Can’t quite process what’s happening. I mean I can. But. Fuck.”
If you’re not in the loop, the ACLU obtained documents from a Freedom of Information Act request that showed Customs and Border Patrol officers’ widespread abuse and mistreatment of child immigrants since 2014. And the president referred to them as animals.
“Fuck is right,” I responded. “It’s getting worse, and I don’t know how to fix it.”
ICE was established in 2003. If it was a person, it wouldn’t even be allowed to drive. But ICE agents have torn apart families, abused children, and, just this week, killed a woman who was attempting to cross the border. In a movie or a book, you would root against them. Or maybe just criticize them as a thinly-veiled gestapo parallel.
A couple of months ago, The Nation ran an article about civil rights attorney and then House of Representatives candidate Dan Canon, who called to abolish ICE. Canon told the Nation, “I don’t think a lot of people have any kind of direct experience with ICE, so they don’t really know what they do or what they’re about. If they did, they’d be appalled. ICE as it presently exists is an agency devoted almost solely to cruelly and wantonly breaking up families. The agency talks about, and treats, human beings like they’re animals.”
I bring up Dan Canon specifically because I know him. I’ve organized with him. I saw him speak at the Louisville to Charlottesville Rally last year. I supported him for Congress. I was sad when he lost. He believes that if we just elect the right people to Congress, we can abolish ICE. Randy Bryce up in Wisconsin, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York. I wish I had as much faith in representative democracy as he does.
But what can you do, if you’re reading this and want to help?
You can start by getting involved with your local city or town council and pressuring them to pass sanctuary ordinances. You can call your senators and representatives to ask them to support sanctuary laws on the state and national level. You can get involved with groups like Mijente. You can donate to the ACLU or the Immigrant Defense Project. You can support candidates like Canon, Bryce, and Ocasio-Cortez.
If you know undocumented people, you can reach out to them and ask them how best you can love them. Sometimes that means sitting with them in a doctor’s office or waiting on the roadside for a tow truck. Sometimes that means sounding the alarm when they ask you to. And, heart-breakingly, sometimes there won’t be anything you can do. Just remember that the threat they could be taken into custody and separated from their families is a very real one.
And if you are an undocumented person, my heart is with you. If you ever need a white shield, I’ll put my body on the line for you as though your life were my own. A better world is possible. We just have to fight for it.