A woman was locked for four days in a tiny holding cell in a northern Arkansas courthouse, forgotten by the authorities and left without food or water, the local Seriff’s Department said Tuesday.
The woman, Adriana Torres-Flores, 38, a longtime illegal immigrant from Mexico, slept on the floor with only a shoe for a pillow, and with nothing to drink except her own urine, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. There was no bathroom in the cell.
A bailiff had apparently forgotten that he placed Ms. Torres-Flores, a mother of three, in the cell last Thursday, and simply left her in the empty courthouse, in Fayetteville, over the weekend, said the chief deputy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, Jay Cantrell.
Read the whole New York Times article here.
This was a story that surprisingly seemed to fall through the cracks on the blogosphere, despite it’s relevance to numerous important social issues. First of all, I think this story illustrates perfectly that (surprise!) illegal immigration is a human rights issue, thought much of the rhetoric in the news media and many politicians would have us think otherwise. Whatever your opinion may be on the recent move to grant illegal immigrants legal status in the United States, there is one status that cannot be denied them: human status. All human beings, whether U.S. citizens or not, have certain irrevocable rights. This woman’s were clearly violated.
It is essential that people understand that illegal immigrants don’t come here with the intention of destroying our economy, taking our jobs, and making us all speak Spanish (all problems which are intentionally misapprehended in most instances). They are people doing what all people of all nations, cultures, and times are driven to do: make better lives for themselves and for their families—something which many illegal immigrants, for reasons outside of their control, do not have the ability or opportunity to do in their home countries. This is not to say that we should not look out for America’s interests, but ask yourself what the demonization of immigrants does to break down our social fabric, to cause us to regress as a society, and then ask yourself if it’s in our best interest as a nation to resist humanizing these people.
The bailiff said he forgot that Ms. Torres-Flores was in the cell. I believe he was telling the truth. I also believe that the fact that this was an accident is more alarming than had it been intentional. If Ms. Torres-Flores had been a white, English speaking, U.S. citizen you can bet that the bailiff would not have forgotten about her—her social value would be too great, too much would be at stake to permit forgetfulness. By accepting or failing to challenge racist propaganda and ideology in our social discourses, we risk becoming indoctrinated unwittingly, to the extent that we might, like this bailiff, commit the unthinkable reflexively. I am not saying here that the bailiff is not responsible for his own actions. To the contrary, it is up to each of us to each of us to be reasonable creatures, to avoid conflating the world as it is with the world as it is described to us. What I am saying is that the wrong kind of unconscious social cues can be incredibly damaging and much more difficult to correct than other manifestations of racism. Overcoming institutionalized racism is already one of the biggest challenges facing our society, and the recent trend in presenting illegal immigrants as though they are somehow undeserving of human rights is a step in the wrong direction.
Finally, this story hints at problems faced specifically by female illegal immigrants. Besides all the regular patriarchal bullshit every woman has to deal with, and the especially heinous stereotypes that women of color struggle against, illegal women occupy an especially vulnerable position in America both legally and socially. They are more likely to be taken advantage of sexually, and they have little if any recourse if such a thing should happen. If they are raped or assaulted and then file a police report, they are at risk of being deported; if they are raped or assaulted by border-guards they are prevented access to embassies.
The article mentions that Ms. Torres-Flores has been living in the U.S. for 19 years and that she has children who are U.S. citizens. This is not an uncommon situation. Let’s think about how deportation affects families like this. I am a 22 year-old U.S. citizen. I could not imagine if, one day, the authorities showed up at my house and took my mother away in handcuffs, and then deported her to a country that I have never been to, and that she has not seen in over 20 years. Imagine how you would feel in that situation. How your own mother would feel. Imagine if you were not born in the U.S., but were brought here as an infant by no choice of your own. You grew up here. This is your home. At 22 you’re arrested for loitering or something stupid, and subsequently it’s discovered that you are “illegal.” You are deported to a foreign country where you don’t know anyone—where you don’t know the language or culture. These are actual scenarios that are coming true everyday in this country.
I am not so naïve as to think that every instance of deportation is unjustified. But by the same token, I am certainly not naïve enough to think this nation can stand for its own proclaimed principles while excluding empathy, human rights, and human decency from its discourses, actions, and legislation.