U.S. Immigration Agents: From Violent Words to Violent Acts, and More

July 17, 2019

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don't have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it's the only way forward.”—Ijeoma Oluo, on Trump’s racist comments toward four congresswomen of color.
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THE STORY

Research on stereotypes has mostly overlooked biracial people. The findings that do exist indicate that biracial people are perceived to be “less socially skilled, less competent and socially colder than monoracial individuals” because they don’t fit in and therefore feel awkward and interact less with others. In a new study from Northwestern University, the researchers found that the two most common stereotypes are that biracial people don’t fit in and that they are attractive or beautiful, the latter of which is often a result of fetishization. One future direction for research is to explore how stereotypes change and form as the numbers of biracial people continue to increase in the U.S. and more people are exposed to this demographic.

Mixed-race boy making a silly face.

OUR TAKE

When a marginalized group is largely overlooked, it’s easier to deny the impact of the discrimination they face. We hope to see research on biracial people expand so we can combat myths and stereotypes about them like we do for monoracial people of marginalized groups. This is especially important because biracial people are the “fastest-growing youth demographic in the U.S.”

How It Affects You

Ensure that biracial employees and students have access to resources like ERGs and student groups where they can feel included and seen. In addition, make sure that your climate surveys and other paperwork account for biracial people without forcing them to choose one racial group over another.

THE STORY

A recent ProPublica exposé revealed that about 9,500 U.S. Customs and Border Control agents share deeply disturbing words and images about immigrants in a private Facebook group. Some of the most upsetting comments mock the deaths of a detained Guatemalan teenager and a father and daughter who drowned in a river while searching for refuge. Christina Fialho and Liz Martinez, who run Freedom for Immigrants, an organization that aims to expose and abolish U.S. immigration detention, make the point that the words found on this Facebook page directly translate into discriminatory and abusive treatment of detained immigrants. They write that “the process of dehumanization begins with words, but it does not end there. Words—when weaponized as threats—translate into acts of violence.”

Our Take

Fialho and Martinez also point out that holding civil servants accountable for their words and actions only scratches the surface. They write, “Individual acts of abuse and human rights violations are symptomatic of a larger issue. The core of the problem lies in the nature of the U.S. immigration detention system, which breeds a culture of impunity and violence.” We agree that a culture of hate breeds hateful actions, just as a culture of inclusion breeds empathic and respectful actions. The Customs and Border Patrol agents should be held accountable, but more instances of hate will likely follow unless the overarching culture of the system is addressed.

How It Affects You

Sometimes it can be hard to see how words translate into discrimination and violence. But with a quick look at what ProPublica revealed, it’s very clear that these words actively dehumanize migrants at the border. They make it easier for Customs and Border Patrol agents to justify their actions. We can’t underestimate the impact of exclusionary, discriminatory, and violent language.

In your organization, focus not only on individual actions like microaggressions or overt displays of discrimination, but also on your organization’s culture as a whole and how it informs those individual actions.

THE STORY

According to Shawn Ullman, senior director for national initiatives at The Arc, “a lack of safe and affordable housing is the number one issue for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.” The two most common housing options for adults with disabilities are group homes and independent living with the assistance of a drop-in service provider, but group homes often have long waiting lists, and there is a shortage in care providers across the country. Enter Rumi, a Minnesota-based company that pairs people with disabilities and compatible caregivers together as lease-holding roommates, “based on shared interests and needs.” For people with disabilities, benefits include being able to choose where and with whom to live, as well as the level of support needed. Meanwhile, caregivers are able to receive tax-free salaries and “help people live more independently.” According to Ullman, an added bonus is “the idea of fostering friendships among people with and without disabilities.”

Woman with disability gets help putting on necklace.

OUR TAKE

It seems that Rumi is taking thoughtful and innovative steps to promote independence, integration, and freedom of choice among people with disabilities and their caregivers. We especially appreciate the emphasis placed on pairing people according to shared interests and needs. As Ullman suggested above, this is a way of fostering friendships and not just traditional caregiving relationships.

How It Affects You

What’s especially striking about Rumi is that the company saw multiple problems co-occurring within the disability community, and then created a resourceful solution that honors the needs and desires of both people with disabilities and caregivers. If marginalized communities are facing interconnected challenges within your organization, take the time to collectively brainstorm out-of-the-box or untraditional solutions—they just might work.