Saira Rao protesting ICE at Aurora, CO detention facility

We Deserve Better

I saw the images of Diana DeGette traveling to Texas purportedly to assess the conditions in which immigrants are being detained. Many are thanking her — it makes me livid.

We tried to tell her. Me, personally, and many others. Like my friend and tireless immigrant rights activist and attorney Christina Brown who’s been on the front lines of the abhorrent conditions of family detention recently reminded us: “I’m glad people care. But I’m bitter. We screamed so loud in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017…and no one listened.”

No one listened.

I’ve told my story to some; my friend Saira has told it to many. For her it was the last straw to a series of her own experiences in being taken advantage of and then ignored by the Democratic Party establishment — her breaking point in deciding to run for congress to unseat the 22-year, 11-term incumbent.

I had spent several days at DIA when the first Muslim travel ban issued. I witnessed a handful of immigration attorneys passionately and determinedly ensure no family would be lost in the system or turned back without a fight. None were Muslim, none were South Asian. But they cared so deeply to defend against the injustice.

A few days later I attended what was promoted as a “town hall” meeting with my CD-1 Representative, DeGette. I submitted detailed questions online; when I arrived, I was told those questions were just for data collection, that she wouldn’t be answering them. There were cards to write questions — so I wrote them out again. I was told they would be used to identify “themes” and not answered.

The town hall was held at the Police Protection Association building. A location which was marginalizing in and of itself — consistent with the pattern of being out of touch with many of her constituents; or worse, intentionally reinforcing their oppression (this is how systemic racism and oppression works).

The “town hall” was a prepared power point presentation about the Affordable Health Care Act; no questions were taken. Out of growing frustration of my representative’s failure to address the crisis around immigration that was actually occurring in her district and state (Muslim ban, ICE raids, and ICE trolling courthouses and communities), and as one of very few people of color in the 1000+ audience, I disrupted. I stood up and asked my representative to address the crisis and state her plan to protect the obvious next target — DACA status individuals.

My Representative’s response: That she wasn’t aware of any raids, and outright condescending dismissal that DACA status people were at risk; blind unsupported assurances that no one was coming after DACA. She didn’t want to hear it; she didn’t listen. She literally scoffed at my suggestion, at my “paranoia”; suggested I was part of the problem because I was fueling fear mongering; overreacting. She didn’t listen.

On my way out, one of her staffers asked me to meet with her to talk about my concerns. I scheduled a meeting and met with her and another staffer at the Denver office. I shared my background, my experience and my concern, my connections to marginalized communities. I wanted to help. I wanted to give my Representative information from communities whom she was not hearing from. Her staffers nodded in agreement with the frustration. I was hopeful, until they related to me with resignation: “civil rights just isn’t her issue.” That her focus is on health care. It was clear to me: my representative didn’t see that health care is civil rights. She was clueless to the interconnectedness of all issues and didn’t want to even try to be inclusive around issues of equity.

Stunned, I left. She didn’t want to listen. She didn’t think this was something she was responsible for. She had a long-standing active community member in her office wanting to help. To organize, to educate, to volunteer her time. To help her use her platform and power to get ahead of the issues we knew were coming. The writing was on the wall. She didn’t care.

She didn’t care. She didn’t listen.

Over 1 ½ years later, she’s now traveling to the US/Mexico border. To “see for herself.” It’s too little too late. It’s insulting to those who have been on the border for years, making personal sacrifice to their personal wellbeing, their financial wellbeing, placing strain on relationships and careers. The detention facilities have been in existence for years — under her watch, under both a Democratic president and the current president. She ignored it. And she ignored pleas from those who “screamed so loud in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017.” And she didn’t listen. A report on ICE’s practice of family detention was issued in 2016 recommending DHS discontinue the general use of family detention. She did nothing. I expect more from my representative than merely signing on to letters. I expect action.

The public outrage over the recent policy to separate children from families finally got her attention. It was all of us, the people, who reacted loud and vigorously to ultimately pressure the administration to reverse the policy of separating children from their families.

She failed those who needed her most. Now, after the crisis is full blown in the *public eye* (because let’s be clear, the dehumanizing practice of family detention has been happening for years), and during an election year, she now decides to say something. To use her most secure seat in the country, her 22 years of “coalition building,” her “experience” in office, to finally do something. And what does she do? She does what she always does… she leaves her post. She has to “see for herself.” She “co-signs” legislation — co-signing means another representative does the work, writes the bill, gathers the support, builds the coalition. And DeGette allows her rubber-stamped signature to be placed among her colleagues. That’s what co-signing means. It takes nothing, no work, no political capital; it’s the opposite of leadership.

Is this the best she can do in 22 years?

She should have listened.

We deserve better.