Letter to the editor: Take time to help children in detention centers

By JANELLE STOIKES | Norwalk 

Concentration camps. I’m sure you’ve heard these words in the news lately. They’ve been around since medieval times and are still being used today. You can find them in places like North Korea and most recently at the border of Mexico. Those words have come to light again due to the crisis of the immigrant children at the border and the disparaging conditions of the “detention centers” they are being house in. Due to immigration policy that separates children from families, innocent children are being held against their will and used as a deterrent by the government for people wanting to immigrate to the U.S.

The term “concentration camp” can trigger harsh feelings and reminders of the atrocities that Jews faced during World War II. But that’s what they are, by definition; (noun) a place where large numbers of people, especially political prisoners or members of persecuted minorities, are deliberately imprisoned in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities, sometimes to provide forced labor. 

Many of these “detention centers” are big business. Run by independent companies like GEO, according to their website, “They provide complementary, turnkey solutions for numerous government partners worldwide across a spectrum of diversified correctional and community reentry services.” Those are their exact words and grammar, not mine.

If it all sounds confusing, well, that’s because it is. ICE and the U.S. Marshals Service pay GEO $32 million a year to house, feed and provide medical care for every thousand detainees. It’s currently in the works building five more “detention centers” where children are kept locked in chain link enclosures, with an armed guard present. Children of all ages; there is no daycare center. There are no programs or places for children with special needs. They sleep on concrete floors with no bedding or pillows with the lights on 24/7. Showering facilities are limited, and guards are present at shower time too. Not to mention the government’s efforts to limit soap and toothbrushes. The area is dirty (it’s a warehouse; can you imagine?), with lice and disease.

Conditions were so bad that workers turned whistleblowers, and now the worst centers are being closed down. Banks and businesses associated with them are refusing to fund them. 

You may wonder what you can do to help and how one person can make a difference. It’s easier than you think.

GIVE! Donate to organizations you trust, those working towards community-based alternatives to detention for children who can’t be placed with an another relative. Like foster care, small, state-licensed group homes, and church groups.

SPEAK UP! Let your voice be heard, talk to your family and friends, your peers and educators, people from your church and local government. Talking about it brings people together, and when people unite for a common cause, big things can happen.

VOTE! Your views matter, and your elected officials are waiting to hear them. Congress.gov is an easy-to-use website filled with factual information and ways to connect with Sens. Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin and our state representatives. Congressman Ron Kind is the representative for our district. He is from La Crosse and has an office there and Washington D.C. He’s worked hard to be elected congressman and become a political voice for the people; he has been representing our state since 1997. It’s his jobto listen to public opinion, and he wants to hear yours! You can email or snail mail your letter to 205 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 400, LaCrosse, WI 54601 or give him a call at (608) 782-2558. 

No matter which political party you relate to, I hope that we can all agree that what’shappening has gone beyond a political issue and is now a human rights issue. All life matters, these are just kids, same as your family. The joy and innocence you see in your kids, the joy they bring, you want them to feel safe in an environment where they can learn and grow, like kids should. They’re all the same; it’s what is in their hearts and minds that matters, not where they came from or how they got here. I’m going to write my letter, but I’m only one person. Please take the time to make a difference in these kids’ lives, and let’s treat them with the respect they deserve. Their innocence isn’t going to last forever. 

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