For a while there, one of my younger brothers would greet each new day by punching out the bathroom mirror. First thing every morning: “Bam!” followed by a string of un-muttered curses.
He had his reasons.
Eventually the mirror shattered. My mother didn’t say anything. Instead, she taped a large photograph of a baby orangutan into the frame where his reflection — and mine — used to be. I don’t know if it made my brother feel any better. But the punching stopped.
I mention this because it’s taking all my massive powers of denial just to look in the mirror. Horrifying things happen every day, allegedly in my name. Am I one of those well-meaning Germans 75 years ago who woke up to the smell of Gestapo leather after it was too late?
I try not to get histrionic.
But are we at that stage?
As a kid, I somehow managed to avoid Anne Frank’s Diary. Today, I trip over her words everywhere. “Families are torn apart; men, women and children are separated. Children come home from school to find that their parents have disappeared.” That was written in 1943.
She could have been describing Mississippi two weeks ago when 680 poultry workers were rounded up in a sweep of undocumented workers. Administration statements boasted this was the largest such raid. Ever.
We are told 600 ICE agents participated in these raids — conducted the first day of school. We are also told these raids were a year in the planning. In all that time with all these agents, no one ever wondered what to do with all the kids left stranded when their parents were perp-walked out of seven chicken processing plants?
Their crime? No documentation.
I like chicken as much as the next guy. In fact, I love it. But it’s a gory, dangerous industry. The good news is that the poultry business is now reportedly twice as safe as it used to be. The bad news its workers still suffer twice as many serious occupational injuries as other industrial ventures.
About 20 years ago, America’s poultry potentates realized they needed a new type of worker, one that didn’t join unions or ask uppity questions. They launched something called “The Hispanic Project,” and in short order southern chicken mill towns saw their Latino populations blossom by 1,000 percent. In that context, legal documents were a formality — especially for the owners. Some economists estimate undocumented workers make up five percent of America’s total workforce. In our slaughterhouses, it’s closer to 17 percent.
When asked about the video of 11-year-old girl crying over her detained father’s whereabouts, the Acting head of ICE, Matthew Albence, saw fit to blame the parents for their children’s anguish. They were the ones who broke America’s laws, he insisted, and made their kids accessories after the fact.
The Administration has but one gear — full throttle. Immediately on the heels of the Mississippi raids, Ken Cuccinelli, acting head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, announced plans to make Green Cards all but impossible for anyone who one day might become eligible for public assistance. While making this announcement, Cuccinelli rewrote the words of the poem — written by Emma Lazarus — famously affixed to the Statue of Liberty. For those who may have forgot, Lazarus wrote: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled mases yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
In front of TV cameras Cuccinelli proudly stated: “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”
Santa Clara and San Francisco counties have already filed legal papers to block the new rules. If immigrants do not seek publicly funded medical services to which they are legally entitled for fear of jeopardizing the Green Cards, attorneys for these counties argue, everybody’s health is potentially at risk.
I would suggest attorneys for Santa Barbara County and all its seven cities follow suit tout suite. It’s not a hypothetical threat.
A case in point: earlier this summer — when the specter of ICE raids loomed large throughout Santa Barbara County because of loudly made official pronouncements — non-profit agencies trying to feed hungry kids during summer months when free school meals are no longer served reported a significant reduction in takers from previous years. In the first two weeks, a Food Bank site at Jardin de la Rosas in Santa Barbara reported serving six free daily lunches; the year before there were 30. At Santa Maria’s Veterans Memorial, the numbers were 66 meals a day as opposed to 166. At Grogan Park — also in Santa Maria—it was 78 as opposed to 150. Even the Santa Barbara School District’s Mobile Café food trucks — which offers by far the best meal-deal in town, saw its numbers drop from 140 to about 80.
That’s a lot of hungry kids. That’s a lot of scared parents.
In hindsight, the question was never why my brother punched out the mirror.
It’s why I didn’t.