by Noa Higgins
There is a gathering of people in the court room. Our group of 14 lines two benches in the back of the large room. This is the place where justice is supposed to be served, where the judge hands out sentences to those who have broken the law in order to uphold the standards that we have put in place to protect our society. But here before us, we see officers passing out headsets for translating to the individuals sitting in the chairs. Each one is shackled by foot and those around their hands are connected to a clanking chain hugging their mid-drifts as they shuffle through their motions. And while the building presents itself as a professional place of justice, the situation before us pleads the opposite. The individuals calmly and quietly sitting in the chairs are not criminals with the goal of harm. They are individuals with faces of compliance, there to filter through the system that we have created for them, without truly understanding their sentencing. They are the people who were found, attacked, and arrested by border patrol in the desert, two days ago at the same time and place that we were walking through the trails. What is it that the system does not see here? Not only the system in general, but what does border patrol, and all of the individuals who play a direct or indirect role in condemning these individuals not see here?
What is it? If everyone else in the court room were to be given brown skin, Spanish as their first language, and a story about how they barely escaped violence, persecution, starvation, injustice etc. in their home country, imagine how different things would be. Imagine if the defendants each were able to explain their situation, telling the judge about their last meal at home before they grabbed their backpack and left. Each defendant explaining how he kissed his brother, mother, wife, son one last time before promising he would turn himself in if necessary so that they would not be left wondering where his body was. Or, in what was the case of many pleading asylum in the courtroom today, telling the judge how when they heard that final death threat from that group back home, they knew they had to get out as quickly as possible.
Because it is sometimes impossible to make others empathize, why have we created a system where there is no room for sympathy? Operation streamline doesn’t even give individuals their basic right to a full trial; they are herded like cattle through the doors, up and out of the chairs, to the microphones to say “si, si, si, culpable”, and back out the doors. Fifteen people standing in a row at a time, and one group right after the other for more than an hour, five days a week. The only thing most of these individuals are guilty of is searching for a better future for their kids, more working hours even in the worst of the jobs, safety, and refuge. It is sickening to think about how different things would be if the people sitting in the chairs in front of the judge were white and English-speaking. It is difficult to say what it is that those in favor of the system could possibly see, but it is clear the dehumanization that happens within these courts. Justice is in no way being served here.
Finding the words to express what we recently witnessed is incredibly difficult. But the faces of the individuals looking back at those who are their to watch their “hearing” is something I believe none of us will ever forget. While sitting on the court benches as well as now, I find myself feeling helpless, only knowing to pray fiercely for protection for the brave people who had hope and justice cruelly ripped away from them.
by Alexus Garcia
I struggle to picture myself in society after this experience
I feel stuck
Bound by theoretical shackles that could have very easily been my reality
Do you admit that you crossed the border illegally?
Immigration is divisive
Often classified: not for the dinner table
I exist in a world where my peers support the death of those who do not look like them
Are you pleading guilty voluntarily?
There is no economical benefit worth the inhumanity that is the United States Immigration System
I do not wear this flag with pride
I do not tolerate any individual that supports past or present policy
Do you understand the rights that you are giving up?
Hearing my name called in that court room
How do you plead?
A powerful reminder that everything we have as individuals is sheer luck
Due to my family
Who have sacrificed so that I could Flourish
It is a blessing that I was born in this country
Free from political corruption & poverty
By some random power
I was gifted safety & a life with loved ones
Protection under a government I am ashamed to call mine
A day of mixed emotions
Still learning how to re-enter this world containing a fire I didn’t know existed