After surviving unimaginable horrors in their home countries and on their way to the United States, children fleeing violence in Central America are being met with armed protesters and outright hate. More anti-immigrant protests, including one announced by the KKK in North Carolina, are planned for this Saturday.
The organizers of some of the summer’s protests have been encouraging their supporters to come with their anger and with their signs. They are also telling them to come with their guns.
While many immigration hardliners are using/exploiting this humanitarian crisis to bolster support for harsh anti-immigrant policies and anti-immigrant political candidates, some others see this situation as an urgent call to take matters into their own hands.
That’s what happened just five years ago. Shawna Forde, an anti-immigrant activist and leader within the Minutemen movement, killed 9-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father, Raul, in their Arizona home. Brisenia and her father were not immigrants. In fact, their Mexican-American family had lived in the United States for several generations. But that did not matter to Forde, who boasted about her vigilante patrol activities.
For years, Forde worked closely with Jim Gilchrist, a more prominent leader within the Minutemen movement. She was also a local/state representative for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a D.C.-based anti-immigrant lobbying organization. Of course, after she was arrested, both Gilchrist and FAIR claimed they had nothing to do with her though. But by then, their efforts had taken a big hit in the eyes of the public.
Amid panic in response to the Central American refugees, Gilchrist has re-emerged, announcing earlier this summer on Fox News that his organization is staging a comeback and ready to deploy its members to support border protesters. He also continues to try to distance himself from Forde.
Of course, Gilchrist claims his Minutemen come in peace, but it is too risky to take him at his word.
Gilchrist and FAIR may be able to distance themselves from individual acts of violence. But their rhetoric is creating the space for the vitriol in this debate. If the anti-immigrant activists can convince the general public that these children are invaders, burdens on our society and threats to our public health, then border vigilantes like the Minutemen can brand themselves as patriots heroically fulfilling their duty.
This type of activism is a threat to the children crossing the border and it is a threat to the children, like Brisenia, already living in border communities. Instead of ignoring the protesters or thinking they will simply go away, we need to call for empathy and humanity and to say plainly that they do not speak for us.
This hatred and vitriol is unacceptable and dangerous, and it doesn’t seem to be subsiding. A society committed to humanitarianism and compassion cannot afford to let immigration hardliners and border vigilantes have the last word.
Kalia Abiade is the advocacy director at the Center for New Community.
Image Source: Overpasses for America Facebook, Accessed Aug. 2