Silky Shah: Obama is requesting more than $2 billion to increase border enforcement but refuses to address so-called free trade agreements and the ‘war on drugs’ that drive migrants to the United States in the first place.


Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

The Obama administration is seeking over $2 billion and asking Congress for the ability to fast track the deportation of children. That’s all to deal with the recent influx of unaccompanied immigrant children into the country. More than 50,000 have been detained since October. That’s about sevenfold of the same period last year. Speaking on ABC News, President Obama promised to deport undocumented youth crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

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BARACK OBAMA, U.S. PRESIDENT: Our message absolutely is: don’t to send your children unaccompanied on trains or through a bunch of smugglers. We don’t even know how many of these kids don’t make it and may have been waylaid into sex trafficking or killed because they fell off a train. We have no way of tracking that. So that is our direct message to the families in Central America: do not send your children to the borders. If they do make it, they’ll get sent back. More importantly, they may not make it.

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NOOR: Now joining us to discuss this is Silky Shah. She is the interim executive director at the Detention Watch Network.

Thank you so much for joining us, Silky.

SILKY SHAH, INTERIM EXEC. DIR., DETENTION WATCH NETWORK: Thanks for having me on.

NOOR: So, Silky, you know, on Sunday, President Obama was on ABC, as we just played that clip, and he said–it was a message to families, mostly in Central America, saying, do not send your children here, we will deport them. Now, as we’re speaking, he’s in front of the White House doing a press conference. He’s going to ask Congress today for the legal authority to deport these unaccompanied children back to Central America without due process, some would argue. And he’s also asking for $2 billion, and a lot of that will go to increased enforcement on the border. What’s your response to his policies he’s been laying out for the last few days?

SHAH: I mean, one, I think, we need to–first, it’s children, but also women. And so one of the things that’s happened, and just last Friday, we saw the opening of the Artesia Detention Center, a family detention center in New Mexico that’s holding both women and children together, a policy that ended in 2009, because–it largely ended in 2009 at the Hutto detention center in Texas, because it’s shown to be really inhumane–kids in prison uniforms, you know, really punitive issues for children. And so I think that’s one big concern for us is that, you know, we’re going to see this expansion of family detention both in New Mexico and Texas. Also we’ve heard some reports of facilities in Baltimore potentially. And so we’re really, really concerned about that. So, you know, that type of policy is not the answer by any means.

Secondly, I think we need to understand that, you know, a lot of the reason why people are fleeing from Central America is because of push factors, including root causes that the U.S. has had a direct hand in. And so those are neoliberal policies like free trade agreements that have completely crippled the economies locally, and also the war on drugs that has funneled so much money into security forces that are in turn creating really violent situations in the region. And so there’s a lot going on in the region that needs to be addressed, but it needs to be addressed by the U.S., because the U.S. has played a role in it. And that’s a lot the reason why people are coming. It is a dangerous situation.

And the third thing I would say is that people need to–you know, they’re seeking refuge. We should not be treating this as an immigration issue, but as, you know, a refugee situation where people need refuge. The U.S. doesn’t offer very much refugee aid, period. For the size of the country, for the GDP, it’s minimal compared to other countries in the world. And I think what we should be doing is moving funds, as opposed to putting more money into enforcement, moving funds into refugee assistance to provide support for these families that are coming that are fleeing persecution and violence in their communities.

NOOR: Now, the UN says that maybe more than half of these undocumented and unaccompanied youth coming into this country may fall under the definition of asylum-seekers or refugees. And the Obama administration, in these policies they’ve unfolded, they are going to spend several million dollars in those Central America countries to help kind of deal with this influx. But unsurprisingly, Republicans would disagree with you, and many Democrats too would disagree with you on the causes of why people are coming to this country, this new influx we’ve seen. And so, for example, Darrell Issa wrote a letter to President Obama just, you know, in the last few days saying that it’s Obama’s Deferred Action program for DREAMers that arrived in this country before 2007 that’s kind of leading to this influx, even though, you know, the undocumented immigrants coming now would not be eligible for it. He’s saying and the Republicans are arguing that Obama’s policies have increased this idea that if someone comes here, they’re allowed to stay. What’s your response to those arguments?

SHAH: I mean, it’s just absolutely absurd. First of all, I mean, you know, (A) that’s not true. People who are coming to the border would not have the ability to get Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). And, you know, I think the reality is is that, you know, people want to stay in their homes. You and me, I mean, so many people want to stay where they are. They want to stay with their families. So many of the stories that you’re hearing about kids, people who didn’t want–kids who didn’t want to come, but their parents were begging them to come because they didn’t have any other resource, any recourse to deal with the situation. And so they’re not coming just because they’re hearing that it’s going to be so great once they get here; they’re coming because they have no other option. So I think this idea that DACA is the reason and Obama’s lenient policies is the reason is absurd. And beyond that, Obama’s policies had been anything but lenient. We’ve seen more detentions and deportations than any other president in U.S. history, 2 million deportations now, almost half a million detentions in fiscal year 2012 alone. I mean, it’s an out-of-control system that’s incredibly punitive. So to say that, you know, because we’re so nice to immigrants, that’s the reason why people are coming is absolutely absurd.

NOOR: And finally, Silky, what are some common sense things the U.S. could do to deal with this influx and perhaps help stem, help solve the reason why people are coming here in the first place?

SHAH: Well, to deal with–in the media, we need to deal with the fact that people are coming in they need assistance, they need asylum, refuge, they shouldn’t be held in detention centers, they should be deported immediately back to violent situations, they need some form of support, and we need to–as opposed to putting so much money into enforcement, we should funnel money into that.

But secondly, I think we need to start addressing the root causes of migration, and one major concern is the war on drugs and the emphasis on incarceration and stopping drug traffickers. But in turn this has sort of led to violent situations in the region. And really, you know, studies have shown that harm reduction and stopping the demand for it is really what’s going to change and not using models like incarceration and security forces in the region. And then also really looking economically. I mean, these fair trade agreements have completely crippled these economies. If this Trans-Pacific Partnership passes, I you’ll see–I think there’s estimated 100,000 Central American workers who aren’t textile workers who aren’t going to have jobs. I mean, these types of policies have really destroyed these economies. And I think those are things that need to be stopped.

NOOR: Silky Shaw, thank you so much for joining us.

SHAH: Thanks so much for having me.

NOOR: You can follow @therealnews on Twitter, Tweet me questions and comments at Jaisal Noor. You can also follow us at Facebook.com/therealnews.

Thank you so much for joining us.

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DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


Silky Shah

Silky Shah is the Interim Executive Director at the Detention Watch Network (DWN), a national coalition of 200 organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the U.S. immigration detention and deportation system and advocating for profound change that promotes the rights and dignity of all persons. She has worked as an organizer on issues related to detention, mass incarceration, racial justice and immigrants rights for over a decade. Before joining DWN in 2009, Silky worked with Grassroots Leadership fighting the expansion of for-profit private prisons on the U.S.-Mexico border and with Democracy Now, as an outreach organizer.