Our VoiceImmigration

Violence against children & the organized nativist movement

Aaron Patrick Flanagan • Sep 30, 2014


UPDATED 10/06/2014

As we have reported numerous times here at Imagine 2050, the organized nativist movement spent this past summer attacking children fleeing pandemic levels of murder and violence in a trio of Central American countries. For months now, that movement has sought to dehumanize these children in order to confuse the American people and to poison the political atmosphere around the Obama administration’s reported announcement of administrative relief for undocumented immigrants.

The goals of the nativist movement’s leaders became clear: 1) expedite the deportation of these children before any legitimate and lawful claims for refugee status could be heard by immigration courts and 2) use these children as a wand with which to orchestrate and to drive its base towards a bigoted crescendo.

Because of the failures of the House of Representative to take up a common-sense immigration reform bill passed last summer by the Senate, the president must now address our broken immigration system through executive action.

That announcement has been delayed until after the mid-term election, but clearly inaction on the part of the president is no solution at all to the gross inaction of the “do-nothing” House.

In an appearance on Meet the Press earlier this month, President Obama offered an explanation about why he’s delayed an announcement of relief, citing broad “confusion” among the public with regards to the children fleeing violence.

The extent of their collective role is perhaps debatable — or perhaps not — but certainly the leaders of the organized nativist movement have worked tirelessly, issuing distorted portrayal after distorted portrayal of these children.

When the delay was announced, the nativist movement rejoiced. They claimed a victory: Robbing children of their humanity, they proclaimed, had worked, granting them even more time and space to distort and to confuse.

Their joy disturbs, certainly. But there is a darker pattern woven into the lesser seen lining of this movement – one that sometimes kills – which is far, far more disturbing. Lost amid those celebrations of their own dehumanizing rhetoric is a history of abuse and violence against the young.

“Send them back with Birth Control”: Dehumanization, Deportation, and Death

With zero proof, this movement’s leaders have been labeling these children “disease carriers,” not human beings.

“Violent gang members,” not human beings.

“Burdens to the taxpayer,” not human beings.

“Future job stealers,” not human beings.

A sign at the now infamous Murrieta, California, protests read: “SEND Them Back With Birth Control.”

A sign at a July 7, 2014, protest in Murrieta, California. Click the image to see more hateful signs from the summer protests.

The goals of the movement’s leaders became clear: 1) expedite the deportation of these children before any legitimate and lawful claims for refugee status could be heard by immigration courts and 2) use these children as a wand with which to orchestrate and to drive its base towards a bigoted crescendo.

Pro-migrant advocates urged patience, underscoring that we must be certain we’re not deporting these children back to their deaths, and that these children must at least be allowed to tell their stories to immigration courts in accordance with due process.

Then, after being denied such chances, some of these children were deported home to Honduras where they were soon killed.

This movement’s leaders helped speed such deportations, but their language must be understood as significant of a reflex much more engrained in this movement: the swiftness of their collective reflex to dehumanize these children.

Ironically, that swiftness seems so, well, inhumane.

Their reflex reveals the depth to which they themselves have internalized their own messages and talking points, though. Truly, the leaders of this movement do not regard immigrants or immigrant children as human beings, or at least they are no longer capable of regarding them as humanized. For some that reflex has given way to impulse or compulsion. It forms a threshold beyond which they cross to threaten or ultimately to commit abuse or violence, even murder, against children.

The relocation of these children fleeing violence to processing or detention centers produced some ugly displays from the adults opposing them. Some activists committed to this movement (one an actual country sheriff in Arizona) escalated their opposition beyond simple sidewalk-bound opposition.

In Vassar, Michigan, protests were led by Tamyra Murray who is the “state advisor” for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the flagship of the organized nativist movement and a group that has long dehumanized immigrants and their children. In Oracle, Arizona, one protest was led by Sheriff Paul Babeu, who at FAIR’s annual conference in 2011 was awarded the group’s “People’s Sheriff Award.”

In Vassar, they marched with AR-15s and automatic weapons towards the detention center where young men were being held. In Oracle, protestors swarmed a busload of children, forced the bus to stop in the road, and terrified the children aboard in the process.

Those children turned out to be local YMCA summer campers.

Such physical threats directly illustrate how “un-human” immigrant children are for those protestors: They were simply foreign objects who’ve arrived here carrying the potential to destroy America. They needed to be surrounded. They need to be threatened away.

For some, threats stop short.

“She took out the trash”: Organized Nativism and Violence against Children

Shawna Forde presently sits on Arizona’s death row. She was convicted for her role in the racist murders of nine-year-old Brisenia Flores and her 29-year-old father, Raul. Both were executed by Ford and her two accomplices in their home back in 2009. Forde was a member of the Minutemen Civil Defence Corps (MCDC), once a leading group within the broader nativist movement. By some, she was recognized as a representative of FAIR. Predictably, both groups denied any connections to Forde after news of the brutal murders broke.

Forde had her admirers, though. One was JT Ready, a neo-Nazi and border vigilante who was active within the nativist movement.

Ready wrote in 2009 about the killings, “I would like to personally thank Shawna Forde for doing the job the U.S. government won’t do itself….Instead of getting locks and cold steel bars, Shawna should be presented with the key to the city where she took out the trash.”

Three years later, Ready executed his girlfriend’s family and her infant daughter. Ready then turned his weapon himself, taking his own life.

Under investigation by the FBI on suspicion of domestic terrorism at the time of his death, Ready was long thought to have led untold and unseen acts of violence against immigrants that he and his marauding cohort caught during their border patrols, far out in the dark of desert nights.

JT Ready (left) & Russell Pearce

Chris Simcox is yet another infamous figure. Once the national leader of MCDC, Simcox presently stands accused of two counts of child molestation. Simcox and Ready were both close to former Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce. Pearce campaigned on Ready’s behalf when his protégé ran for local public office in Arizona. Pearce even sponsored him for membership in his own church.

Perhaps most famous for introducing SB 1070 into Arizona’s legislature, Pearce co-wrote that law with the help of two lawyers from FAIR’s own legal project.

The lawyers were the infamous Kris Kobach and the lesser-known Mike Hethmon. Both are prominent leaders within today’s nativist movement, and the laws that these two men have helped to write have done as much anything to debase immigrants living in our country. For years, Hethmon has worked closely with a network of state-level nativist politicians known as State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI). That network was spearheaded by FAIR, and Hethmon and Dan Stein, FAIR’s president, were present at the press conference held to announce SLLI’s official partnership with FAIR’s legal project.

Mike Hethmon (furthest left) alongside Dan Stein with Russell Pearce (furthest right)

As cameras flashed away, Hethmon and Stein stood two individuals away from Pearce.

On Sept. 4 – three days before President Obama announced that he would delay executive action on immigration – news reports began breaking that Hethmon had been arrested and charged with child molestation. As of Oct. 6, Hethmon resumed his campaign for the Maryland House of Delegates after a jury declined to indict him.

“Little Hands with Red Fingernails”: Cherishing Humanity, Enacting Relief

In a fit of rage like Ready, or in the grips of executing the darkest of so-called political statements like Forde, or from the comfort of a movement that reflexively dehumanizes immigrant children as is alleged of Simcox, nativist activists and influential movement leaders have committed violence against those most vulnerable within any society, the young.

While the respective charges brought against Simcox might point more at the pathological, the cases of Forde and of JT Ready gesture at will to commit violence that was perhaps socialized into them during years of immersion in the dehumanizing messages and hateful frames of the organized far-Right.

After all, no message condemning an armed march led by one of its own state advisors against young immigrants ever came from FAIR. Imagine 2050 has recently exposed that, once again, FAIR is working closely and even publicly with Minutemen leaders.

Executive action is often described as bringing with it “much needed relief for immigrant families,” which appears true to a point. That relief will surely be incomplete in numerous ways.

Relief will not stop nativists from robbing immigrants and children, regardless of status, of their humanity. Relief will not refuse them their desire to “confuse” the public.

On Meet the Press, President Obama claimed that he and his administration need time to clear up such confusions, hence the delay. Dismantling the dehumanizing arguments that the organized nativist movement and their strident allies across the far-Right and in Congress – like Sen. Jeff Sessions and Rep. Lamar Smith – have collectively echoed is vital to his stated task.

Frankly, it must be done.

If the president finds himself lacking the political will to do so, perhaps he should ponder the words of one juror from Shawna Forde’s trial, who described the imprint that viewing the crime scene photos of nine-year-old Brisinia left on her:

“Hideous, the apropos word is hideous. Every second of every day. Every time I close my eyes I see this picture. It’s a picture of a love seen innocent enough. And little hands with red fingernails and a white tank top and turquoise colored pajama shorts….I’ve seen it a thousand times in my house. I have daughters. The difference in this picture I see is that this little girl’s face, half of her face is missing.”

Aaron P. Flanagan is the director of research at the Center for New Community.

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