Jul 10, 2018

Families Belong Together, in Alaska and Elsewhere


Last weekend, my hometown -- along with communities all across the U.S. -- hosted a rally in reaction to the "no tolerance" immigration policy imposed by ICE under the Trump Administration. Particularly, people were reacting to the 2,300 (recorded) children who were forcibly separated from their migrant parents since mid-2017. Personal conversations with a few of the Juneau rally participants highlighted the underlying message of the rally: that it is inhumane to keep children locked away from their parents.


The other key message I heard was to me, much more disconcerting. Many wondered, how could something this terrible happen here? In response, I like to point to history as our guide.


In Alaska and elsewhere, we have had and continue to have systems and policies put in place that -- whether intentionally or unintentionally -- oppress people of certain communities. If we're speaking generally of human rights violations, I'll bring up briefly the case of Filipino activist Jerome Aba, who this year claimed to be a victim of torture by the US Customs and Border Protection Agency (https://bit.ly/2Ja35bi). If we're speaking specifically about situations that parallel the problem at the center of the Families Belong Together movement, I'll bring up how for about 50 years the US Government separated Alaska Native children from their homes and put them through forced assimilation at boarding schools within the state (https://bit.ly/2uey1mn). While neither situation fully replicate the problem the "no tolerance" policy gave us, they all arise from a greater issue of immigration and race that our governing bodies continue to grapple with.


In both cases I mentioned before though, there have been people in formalized state and city leadership positions who've later condemned the acts that their place of assumed leadership committed. I'm proud to say that at Juneau and Anchorage's Families Belong Together rallies, our state leaders took ownership for the forced separation of Alaska Native families.


While I'm encouraged by this ownership, I won't ignore the fact that Alaska has had a greater role in inflicting racially-charged damage on the people of its state. Reflection on a single action is not enough. Reflection on the greater issue that has stemmed many of the same problems, though, is a more effective route that I implore everyone to embark on.



Tuhin Chakraborty
Jul 10, 2018

Were these boarding schools that you mention permanently separating kids from their Alaskan families or was it temporary? Also, in the Alaska situation, the officials directly and aggressively came for innocent people already native to Alaska. Aren't immigrant families who come here against the law a different case scenario?

Aug 26, 2018

Hey Tuhin! Firstly, if was temporary. Secondly, in comparing Alaska’s boarding schools with the situation at the border, they are different situations, but my point in comparing the two is that they’re both examples of the state willingly using family separation/trauma as a mechanism to get something the state wanted. I don’t think that whether a person is native or immigrating, that the state/governing body should be able to use excessive trauma as a tool of enforcement. I also want to highlight that the families who were separated in El Paso included asylum seekers, a legally accepted form of immigration, so the El Paso situation included both people that the state does and does not accept legally.

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