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 (). 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 (). 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.