A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. The asylum seekers had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

What a horrified New Zealander can do about kids in cages

Practical steps to take right now if you’re appalled at the news coming out of the United States.

This article was originally published in June 2018 and has been updated with current information.

From the far side of an ocean, we in Aotearoa are still watching, horrified, as human rights abuses unfold in real time on the United States-Mexico border. US president Donald Trump has ordered children to be taken from their asylum-seeking parents, held as hostages to get his ridiculous border wall built.

“New Zealand has always stood as a counterpoint to the politics of hate and division. We hold steady to our values and shout them from the rooftops when the rest of the world seems adrift. We speak to fairness and human rights, as we did on apartheid, as we stood against nuclear testing in the Pacific. Now is such a moment.”

– Golriz Ghahraman

This weekend vice president Mike Pence visited detained children and asked them – a bunch of little kids – if they were being well treated.

News flash: they’re not. Children have been made to sleep on concrete floors, share lice combs, and live without soap or toothpaste.

In Congress, representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Veronica Escobar, and Rashida Tlaib spoke of what they had witnessed in detention facilities, including blocked sinks so women had to drink from toilets.

Last year ProPublica shared a recording of children crying for their parents – children who are housed in what can only be described as cages inside an abandoned WalMart. On any given day 2000 children are in custody on the US-Mexico border, under a policy that punishes asylum seekers exercising their legal rights by stealing their children. A year later since the policy was first introduced, many of the children originally detained have still not been returned to their families, and children continue to be taken from their parents by border staff.

Whether you are poring over Twitter and the New York Times website, gaping at every new atrocity this corrupt and cruel administration embarks on, or consciously trying to avoid the excruciating sights and sounds of children abducted by the state – a state that is wholly unwilling to spend the money to look after them – it is hard not to feel helpless if you’re not a US citizen with an elected representative to phone daily.

But there’s actually a bunch of things you can do, even from here. We need not feel powerless. Here are some concrete actions you can take today to add your voice of outrage, and pledge what aid you can to these children who are being tortured by a despot who likes to think of himself as the ‘leader of the free world’.

Donate money to those who are helping directly

The most pressing need in Texas right now is legal help for the thousands of illegally imprisoned children and adults.

The leading civil rights organisation in the US, the ACLU, is taking legal action to protect asylum seekers. You can donate to them here.

RAICES is a Texas-based organisation that offers free and low-cost legal services to immigrant children and families. Donate here.

CNBC has a more extensive list of organisations you can donate to who are working with people who have been arrested at border crossings.

Help your American friends and family to exert their influence

As we saw during the attacks on healthcare, one of the most effective things US citizens have done to thwart the Trump administration’s policies is lobby their elected representatives.

Encourage any US citizens you know, wherever they live, to call (phoning is most effective, apparently, in the US) their representatives daily. Here’s a step-by-step guide from the ACLU on who to call and what to focus on. You could share this link around your US friends and family, on social media, and by email to make it super easy for them. If you’re on Twitter, follow @Celeste_Pewter who shares calling scripts for US citizens who want to lobby their elected representatives.

Call on our government to protest

Winston Peters is in Washington DC right now. Call his office today, to urge him to act on behalf of these traumatised children.

Call his office on 04 817 8701, and leave a message with his staff, expressing your opinion. Keep it short and sweet, and make sure you say you are calling because he is Minister of Foreign Affairs. The message will be passed on. You can also email (though phoning is better): w.peters@ministers.govt.nz. He’s not active on Twitter, so don’t rely on that.

Protest to the US ambassador here in Aotearoa

To send a message directly to the US, join a protest. In early July people protested and slept on the street outside the US Embassy in Wellington in solidarity with the children with no beds in Texas. There will be more protests. You can join them.

You can also contact the US Ambassador, Scott Brown, directly on his Twitter and the Embassy Twitter.

Amnesty International New Zealand has a current petition available to sign online, which will be delivered to the Ambassador.

Add your voice to international human rights protests

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has told the US that the practice of separating families violates the children’s rights and international law and the UN Secretary-General has spoken out, too.

Put your hand up, as a citizen of the world, and lend your support to international organisations working to stop US human rights abuses. You can sign Amnesty International’s petition here.

Channel your outrage and energy closer to home

Australia is doing similarly illegal and cruel things in its treatment of asylum seekers. We can protest against this in all the same ways. On the other hand, they take in 20,000 refugees a year, far ahead of our 1500, even on a per capita basis.

Here’s another embarrassing fact: 86% of refugees are currently being hosted by developing nations. Pakistan alone has 1.5 million refugees. Thailand, not even a signatory to the UN Convention, has more than 700,000. The rich world is not even close to pulling its weight.

So how about today you do something to make Aotearoa a place where many more refugees are welcome:

  • Sign up with Red Cross to be a resettlement volunteer.
  • Donate good quality household gear to the Red Cross to help furnish a former refugee’s first home in Aotearoa.
  • Educate yourself on the facts of the refugee crisis. I’ve collected lots of information and links here.
  • Chat with a former refugee to help their conversational English come along. Be a friend in their new home. You can train as a tutor (60 hours training) here, or just contact your local volunteer hub, library, church, or community centre to see which community groups near you running conversational English gatherings you can just join in.
  • Write to MPs and Ministers to show your support for New Zealand taking more refugees. Sample templates and directions for contacting MPs are here.
  • Volunteer with RASNZ to support former refugees – maybe by mentoring a university student, befriending a young parent, or providing transport and practical help to someone getting used to a new country.

The news cycle is brutal these days. You’re not alone if you feel bombarded by the steady barrage of horrors we’re shown each day.

But we need not feel powerless. Turn off the news, follow some of these links, and join millions of other international citizens, each doing their bit.

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