What Is Going On Down By the Border

What Is Going On Down By the Border

If you're confused, let's unpack all of this

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In April, U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions ordered a 'zero tolerance' policy for illegal border crossing. ICE began separating children from families of immigrants who crossed the border illegally, sending the children to immigrant detention centers and the parents to jails awaiting criminal prosecution. Normally, when undocumented immigrants are detained, the government has the choice to either submit them for deportation hearings or prosecute them for unlawful entry, which is considered a misdemeanor. Deportation is an administrative process and families are kept together. It's fast and inexpensive. Prosecution on the other hand is a criminal process. When an immigrant is prosecuted, they are charged for a crime and sent to a jail to await trial. Unlike an immigration detention center where an immigrant and their family would go if they were awaiting a deportation hearing, jails do not offer family housing. Anyone prosecuted is separated from their family. Prosecution is time consuming and expensive.

Before the policy change, previous administrations would prosecute people who committed serious crimes or felony offenses and families that crossed the border would just be deported and families could be kept together. Instead, children are separated from their parents, and sent to the office of refugee resettlement housing. Because the police was announced without anytime for preparations, the office of refugee resettlement is unable to keep up with the increased workflow of finding family members and sponsors for the children.

The conditions for the children have been described as bleak. The detention centers where children are allowed to legally be kept at for a maximum of three days are overcrowded with up to twenty children in rooms described as cage like. They are given bags of chips and a few water bottles as well as thin mats and foil blankets as bedding. Normally, a detention center would be for older unaccompanied minors but isn't fit for younger children. Parents who had been interview said that they haven't been told where they are taking their kids and some parents have even been lied to, saying their children were being taken away for a bath. Because there is so much overcrowding, tent cities in the desert have been built almost overnight for children and reporters have not been given access.

At this moment, it's unknown if these children will be reunited with their families because the Trump Administration doesn't have clear policy on how the children will be reunited. Trump has said he will sign an executive order to stop separating children, but hasn't explain how children who have already been separated will be reunited. A lot of people on social media and press have made connections to the situation to events in history including slavery when families were separated during slave auctions, or during the holocaust when parents and children were separated in camps, as well as the Japanese internment camps in world war two as a response to Pearl Harbor. George Takei, who had been moved to an internment camp at age five even said, "At least during the internment of Japanese-Americans, I and other children were not stripped from our parents"

The connections are quite scary, but according to Webster's dictionary, a concentration camp is .a camp where persons (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, or refugees) are detained or confined, and currently the children that are separated could be considered political prisoners since Trump has alluded to using them as leverage against congress and mexico to fund the wall. Since May, 2342 children have been separated. Trump signed an executive order to stop further separation of children at the border however, there is nothing in the policy that covers how the administration plans to reunite families if they even plan to. Currently, there are shelters across fifteen different states in the U.S. that are housing the separated children.

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Filipino-American Mental Health: It Starts with a Conversation

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When it comes to talking about mental health struggles, I feel like a lot of Filipino-Americans share a similar attitude—sure, it happens, but not with my family. Whether it is because the language is still inaccessible to our communities, or we refuse to approach the topic because of fear, or a little bit of both, a lot of us have yet to really contextualize and express how this particular topic shows up in our daily lives. So you can just imagine how radical it was when a group of Filipino-American health professionals, academics, student leaders, nonprofit leaders and more participated in the first ever National Forum on Filipino American Mental Health held at the Philippine Embassy. On that day, members of our community said yes, mental health struggles absolutely happen, and they are experienced by our families too.

I participated in the forum as an EPYC Ambassador for the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA). The EPYC Program, in its sophomore year, hopes to empower the next generation of Fil-Am leaders across the country by assisting in the personal and professional development of students and young professionals. As an ambassador for the Capital Region, I was quickly introduced to the scene in the D.C. Metro Area. I made my way from one community event to another, increasing my networks and learning about the resources that I wished I knew when I was younger. But it was, ironically, the topic of mental health that made me very anxious to attend the forum. At the time, I was going through one of the hardest college semesters of my life, and I was afraid to participate in an event dealing directly with this very topic. I woke up that morning with every intention of fading into the background to listen rather than to speak.

But that is not what happened. The hosts made it clear that they wanted to hear what the young people had to say. Jon Melegrito, a local community pioneer known fondly as "Tito Jon" said that that day was about sharing our stories, because we rarely have the opportunity to do so. The room had prominent scholars like Dr. Kevin Nadal (who sat next to me!) and Dr. E.J. Ramos David, but their eyes were focused on us. And so we spoke. We talked about dealing with stigma both inside and outside the community. We talked about the structural barriers (like costs) that make it hard for anybody to get support, regardless of their ethnicity. On the topic of collaboration, I mentioned that it was important for us to address that Filipino-Americans are not a monolith, and that we must always strive to center the most marginalized among us.


Pictured (left to right): Andrew Bartolome, Janis Manalang, Jon Melegrito, Kevin Nadal, and Austin ChavezPhoto by Lia Macadangdang


There was one topic, however, that we kept circling back to: the disconnect between parent and child, between first gen and second gen, between the homeland and the diaspora. I often find these conversations to be very interesting, because as someone who identifies as 1.5 gen (someone who immigrated to this country as a child), I serve as a good example that those conversations are not black-and-white. If there is anything I learned from being pushed into the diaspora it is that this life is very hard. No amount of Filipino resilience can prepare you from dealing with so much loss when you are away from your people. Diaspora asks us to rebuild and re-envision a new life without having much of a blueprint to borrow from. So who should we be? What kind of life should we have? These are some of the broader conversations our communities will need to have for some time.


Quezon City, Philippines. 2003.


And what we are seeing now is that more and more of our people are willing to have them. Recently, Instagram hired Filipino-American student Jazmine Alcon (@pettyofcolor) as an Instagram Ambassador. Alcon uses her platform to create online spaces for youth, specifically Filipinx youth, to talk about mental health issues. Malaka Gharib of NPR has published a heartwarming multimedia piece on Filipino-American Mental Health with the help of Ryann Tanap of AARP. Academics like Nadal and David have been making a name for Filipino-American psychology for some time and still continue to make breakthroughs.

And we should not stop there. We also need to take a look at what Ruby Ibarra is doing, what Bambu DePistola is doing. We must engage with Elaine Castillo and Jose Antonio Vargas. We have to ground ourselves in the work of Dawn Mabalon and Carlos Bulosan who did so much work for our people when they were here. We also have to be humble enough to look at what other communities have done that help paved the way for us. Fil-Ams, especially non-Black Fil-Ams, need to be just as dedicated in reading their bell hooks and Audre Lorde and James Baldwin and Kimberle Crenshaw and Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston, and so much more. Inclusivity, intersectionality, and solidarity should be the heart of our many conversations. Kapwa (connectedness) must not come with any conditions.

As I unpack my own struggles with mental health, I often look back on the day of the forum. I often have to stop myself from feeling like a hypocrite because I was talking about a topic that I have yet to fully resolve on my own. And then I realize that perhaps the bigger problem was that I thought I had to resolve it alone. As I get closer to graduation, I am beginning to understand that I should not beat myself up any longer, because life in the diaspora already does a good job of doing that. What I should do is be more gentle and give more grace for those are the more radical things to do in the face of what we are dealt with. The business of being free is hard work, but to echo Dr. E.J. Ramos David—"it's hard work, because it's the heart's work."

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Our Leaders Need A 'Time-Out'

We all learned a few essential rules as children.

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As I look watch the news, I can't help but wonder if the lessons we learned as children might not serve our leaders well. They seem to have forgotten these basic lessons. I am reminded of the book by Robert Fulghum "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten."

Watch out, hold hands, and stick together.

I think this could be useful in a couple of different contexts. First, the current divisiveness in the country doesn't serve us well. We are first and foremost, a part of the family of humankind. Differences in politics, religion, and so on come in far behind that one important attribute. What happened to the notion of agreeing to disagree?

Second, when leaders get off a plane in another country, they should remember who they came with and who they represent - "watch out, hold hands, and stick together."

Clean up your own mess.

Trump seems to take great pleasure in blaming everyone else for their "mess." The government shutdown was someone else's fault – any Democrat. When the stock market went up, he happily took credit, but when it went down, he quickly shifted gears and placed the blame on the Federal Reserve Chairman. Daily and hourly tweets out of the White House place blame on someone else for his "mess." Sadly, he still likes to blame Obama and Hillary for his mess.

Don't lie.

Politicians have always had a bad reputation when it comes to honesty. Still, the number of lies that we hear from Trump (and members of his staff) is unprecedented even for a politician.

We all learned these lessons when we were little more than five years old. Now more than any time in history I think our leaders need a " time out" to re-learn these lessons.

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