Picture a group of kids arrested and locked up in cages, separated from their parents and locked in “age-appropriate” detention centers scattered across the Mexican border. Kids that did not choose where they live. Kids that have no say in what their parents made them do. Kids treated as criminals in a foreign land. Kids punished for seeking a better life here in America. On the home front, a young child, Antwon Rose, was shot and killed in his East Pittsburgh neighborhood after running from the police despite being unarmed. Rose is not the first person the police wrongfully killed, Philando Castile was killed even though he warned the police about his weapon to avert disaster. Meanwhile, 4,600 Puerto Ricans lost their lives in Hurricane Maria, a stark contrast from the sixty-four lost according to President Trump’s FEMA report.
These losses and mistreatment show that Black lives do not matter in today’s America. Puerto Rican lives do not matter in today’s America. Latino lives do not matter in today’s America. These events also show us that Blacks and Latinos in the United States share a common struggle for equality in America. A struggle that is both infamous but poorly understood. A struggle with the shared history of victimization as “inferior races” and a lesser understood history of overcoming that. Simply, their struggle is ours.
Families Separated at the Border
One common struggle is the separation of families in the guise of “criminal justice.” Right now, on the Mexican border, Border Enforcement agents separate thousands of kids from their parents once they cross the border. According to President Trump’s tweets, about 12,000 children cross the border because of their parents. Two thousand of those children come with their parents, the rest come alone. There is no explicit policy requiring family separation but there is a policy of prosecuting all who enter the United States illegally, and if the individual is a parent, separation is guaranteed. If an undocumented immigrant is charged, they are sent to a federal jail for holding: kids are not allowed with them. When captured by Border Patrol, officers often tell the immigrants that they are taking their kids for brief questioning or to “give them a bath” before they realize, after several hours pass, that their kids are not coming back. Some Border Patrol agents tell immigrants that they will never see their kids again.
The Trump Administration has decided to prosecute more undocumented immigrants to curb illegal immigration: thus, allowing him to keep the children separated by using the Office of Refugee Relocation (ORR). Trump even tweeted that undocumented immigrants should be forced across the border without any due process, like a hearing or a trial. These kids are taken to ORR facilities where reports of sexual, verbal, and physical abuse run rampant. Some of the children released by ORR to their “supposed” relatives may have been sent to labor traffickers. There is little effort on the government’s part to reunite a family at all; instead, they send the child to live with a relative if the kid has one. Sometime a parent will be deported, other times it’s the child which means could make it impossible for the family to reunite and set up the children for exploitation.
This is a new low for Trump’s America. It amazes me every day how some people hear Trump call Mexicans murders and rapists or compare immigrant children to MS-13 and wonder how we could label Trump a “racist.” Others simply choose to ignore Trump’s bigotry by citing that he “doesn’t mean what he says,” “he will lower your taxes,” or he’ll “put us to work.” Even the United Nations condemned the practice of family separations for asylum seekers as a form of torture. Trump’s so-called Executive Order to end separation will do little to stop family separations for those who are prosecuted while seeking asylum in a Zero Tolerance Policy guised to deter Latino immigration to the United States.
Latinos, like African Americans, are victims of institutional racism and societal hate and apathy towards our identity and plight. There is a growing debate about the methods of enforcement used against undocumented immigrants in the United States. American law allows those seeking asylum to apply for it if they at a port of entry: however, there are reports of asylum seekers physically prevented from stepping on American soil to prevent them from applying. The Government prosecutes others asylum seekers for entering illegally as they formally apply for asylum. Those caught are left in detention centers that are jails, with children kept in cages, with little blankets to keep them warm at night. These facilities have Nurses with one-years’ experience to diagnoses and treat illnesses usually left of seasons doctors. For those that do make it to the United States intact will become day laborers working twelve-hour days for meager pay with the threat of “La Migra” looming over their heads. Some turn to a life of crime to make it in a county that promised them so much—but delivered so poorly.
Apathy and hatred give Latinos trouble voting. New laws make it difficult for Latinos citizens to vote with laws requiring identification to vote. Often, people demand English only ballots, citing that America is an English-speaking language and that Latinos need to “learn English” to assimilate into American society. For Puerto Ricans like me, the fact that we are already citizens by birth has not stopped some apathetic politicians from expressing their desires to keep us from voting all because we are coming to Florida as Hurricane refugees, much like those who suffered from Hurricane Katrina. American citizenship has not dampened the struggle to get a piece of the “streets made of gold” so prevalently believed among all newcomers to America. However, we realized when we got here we found ourselves quickly moved to the nearest tenements to work as cheap labor to pave the streets with gold but not claim any for ourselves in large northern cities in the 1950s and in Florida today. These struggles mirror the Black experience in America that began four hundred years ago with slavery and then Jim Crow segregation before a momentous civil rights movement brought Blacks and Latinos a sense of equality that did not exist before. That is why their struggle is ours.
Black Lives Matter and Latinos Lives Matter Too
Let us be clear, I know black lives matter. I also know Latino lives matter too. For four hundred years, Blacks have been the vanguard of racial equality in the United States and its colonial predecessors. Heroes like Denmark Vessey, Fred Shuttersworth, and Fredrick Douglas, while scarcely remembered, will never be forgotten for their contributions to furthering social justice in a time it was sorely lacking. Issues facing Blacks and Latinos like substandard housing and the effects of slavery and Jim Crow go unnoticed in White communities. Up until recently, our problems were ignored, our victims invisible. The media portrays us as thugs and drug lords, rarely ever showing us as working professionals, politicians, and leaders. The media further thinks that immigration is the only Latino issue. As if other Latino issues are for Univision or Telemundo for coverage. There are no reports of innocent Latinos killed by police or wallowing in ICE detention centers. Sometimes the struggle we share is seen as a struggle, exclusive to one.
Latinos need to watch out for police, not just Border Patrol, because we are in danger of them killing us too. Long seen as a “Black and White” issue, police shootings of unarmed men of color affect Latinos just as much as Blacks. The media has given substantial attention to the murders of Travon Martin and Philando Castile but has ignored lives lost like Pedro Villanueva and Anthony Nuñez, both unarmed and killed by police. Two undercover police officers chased Pedro Villanueva as he drove away in his truck before cornering him in a dead-end street. Villanueva was shot to death when he attempted a U-turn to escape what he thought were random people chasing him. Many are apathetic about Villanueva’s untimely death. Yet they forget that undercover police officers followed Villanueva. They forget Villanueva was unarmed, he was unaware—according to police—that they pursued him, he did not know who chased him, let alone killed him.
Being an educated Puerto Rican male does not immune you from the dangers police pose. I remember when I was in high school, I had an unfriendly encounter with the police. I was running on the side of the road for exercise when an unmarked red Chevy Malibu pulled over to the side of the road. A police officer got out and asked me for some ID. When I told him I did not have it he started asking me questions like where I lived, where I am from, and what was my social security number. To make matters worse, the officer called backup and he and three other officers stood around me—with only a few inches apart from my body. I was very uncomfortable in this position, but I felt there was little I could do to stop it. I was afraid to move a muscle because I was afraid that I would be wrestled down and arrested me for merely bumping into them: making me another statistic—a young male of color with an arrest record.
Eventually, I could leave after they asked me about a series of break-ins in the area. This situation always stuck out in my mind how I could have been arrested, or worse, had I chosen to walk away or ask for personal space. Still, some people believe the police were right to detain me, to question me, to intimidate me. Still, some people believe that Villanueva deserved to die. Society believes police should get the benefit of the doubt. That our lives, unlike theirs, do not matter. That is why the Black Lives Matter struggle is just as important for Latinos as it is for Blacks. That is why their struggle is ours.
United by Common Struggle
America has marginalized both Blacks and Latinos throughout its history. Both have felt the scorching burns of racism by American society. Both are owed something by American society. American society has made us feel that our lives do not matter. Whether it is hostile police encounters many men of color have faced. Immigration roundups that split families with little planning for reunification. Or terrible emergency response and recovery efforts for people of color suffering from Hurricane Maria or Hurricane Katrina. Why is society like this? Apathy and hate are the culprits, but this quote from the Qur’an sums my beliefs on why society is like this and why it can change, “it is not the eyes that are blind but the hearts.” In Isaiah 1:14, the Bible says, “learn to do good, seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, defend the fatherless, [and] plead for the widow.” These quotes illustrate how apathy and hate fuel the problems people of color face, what we can do to fix it, and how their struggle is ours.
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Silva, Daniella. “Trump calls for deporting migrants ‘immediately’ without a trial.” NBC News 24 June 2018. 25 June 2018. <https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/trump-calls-deporting-migrants-immediately-without-trial-n886141>.
 The Holy Qur’an, Al-Hajj 22:46.