Categories Op/Ed

Editorial: We Must Be Vigilant About Abuses of Human Rights


Our nation paused on Memorial Day to remember those who died at war to protect our freedoms. It is only right that we should do this. As terrible as war is, it is what stopped slavery and fascism.

We can thank those who died for our freedom by decorating their graves. We can do it by waving tiny flags as parades pass by, or by participating in the parades ourselves.

But wouldn’t it be a more meaningful tribute to those who have laid down their lives for our freedom be to do something ourselves to protect freedom, justice and human dignity?

Sadly, one major offender these days is the United States government itself. Our government is now, as a matter of policy, ripping children away from their parents when the families show up at the border seeking asylum. White House chief of staff John Kelly said in an interview with National Public Radio on May 11 that this was necessary as a deterrent — even though showing up at the border and asking for asylum is a perfectly legal way to try to enter the country. He defended the practice, saying, “The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever.”

It’s unclear what he meant by “foster care or whatever,” but if it’s anything like what has happened to minors who show up at the border without their parents, we have cause to be gravely concerned.

Unaccompanied children who show up at the border hoping to be admitted to the United States are turned over to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That agency planed 7,635 children with sponsors. Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary at HHS, told the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on April 26 that HHS followed up between October 2017 and December 2017 by calling those children to check on their safety. Mr. Wagner told the committee that 6,075 of the children were found to be still living with their sponsors. Another 28 had run away. Five had been deported; 52 were living with someone else. That leaves 1,475 children whose whereabouts Mr. Wagner did not know.

Where are these 1,475 children? One possibility is they might have ended up with human traffickers and forced into slave labor. That’s illegal, of course, but it still happens in our country. Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, chairs the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and got it to investigate because of unfree labor in his state, where, eight Guatemalan teens were placed with human traffickers and forced to work on egg farms under threats of death. Six people have been convicted and sentenced to federal prison for their roles in that human trafficking scheme, but that is surely not the only one. Could the 1,475 children be laboring in similar conditions? Mr. Wagner had no answer.

It’s easy to blame President Donald J. Trump. Democrats have been using the slogan “Seeing Red? Vote Blue.” But like most political slogans, that’s a gross oversimplification. It’s not as if there has been consistent respect for human rights with Democrats are in charge. A report released Wednesday, May 23, by the University of Chicago Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and the American Civil Liberties Union’s Border Litigation Project showed evidence of rampant child abuse by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials. And that occurred between 2009 and 2014, when Barack Obama was president.

Abuse included children being stomped on or punched; fondled or made to strip naked; fed inedible or spoiled food; or denied necessary medical care. Many were placed in cold cells with no blankets or locked up with unrelated adults. And although there’s no reason to believe Mr. Obama approved of these practices, they happened on his watch. If electing Mr. Obama did not prevent these grotesque violations of human rights, why should we expect electing any Democrat will do so in the future?

So what should we do as citizens? It is often said that when Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention, he was asked what kind of government had been created, and he replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” A republic depends on the active involvement of citizens to remain a free country and not a republic in name only.

Quite simply, we need to get involved. One thing we can do is join the ACLU, which needs all the help it can get to do things like documenting the abuses committed under Mr. Obama’s watch (the group had to sue to get the records it sought) and fighting the abuses committed under Mr. Trump’s watch. And those of us who identify as conservatives should not shy away from doing so — if National Rifle Association leaders Oliver North and Wayne LaPierre see the value in the ACLU’s work, why should any conservative shy away from it? The ACLU recognizes that all people’s civil liberties have to be protected, because if anyone’s rights are violated, everyone’s rights are in danger.

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg wrote on Twitter on Friday, May 25: “We can’t any of us fix it all. But we can band together to bring more and more light. Find a place to invest your time and energy and give that everything you have. Election campaigning? Protest organizing? Lobbying? Direct service to vulnerable/impacted folks? Do something. … You have gifts that are waiting to be put to use in service of a country that needs you. Of people who need you. What resources do you have? Talent? Time? Skills? Connections? Material resources? This is the time to dedicate more of what you’ve got in service of the work.”

She is right. We should do something. If you want to salute the flag to honor those who died in the service of our country, by all means do so. But doing something — anything — to protect human rights and human dignity is a far more meaningful way to honor the fallen.

The preceding editorial is the opinion of The Elizabethtown Advocate. Other opinions on this page are those of individual contributors. The Advocate aims to give its readers a wide variety of opinions.

About the author