July 4 is not just a national holiday. It is not just a day to celebrate national pride or history. It is a day to honor the incredible hard work that is shaping, improving, and maintaining a democracy—a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, as Lincoln put it.
As we mark the 243rd anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, thousands of people are being held in makeshift prisons, having committed no crime except to ask the United States to protect them from tyranny.
Families have fled:
- the tyranny of oppressive or corrupt governments,
- the tyranny of ultra-violent war-like gangs,
- the tyranny of structurally inescapable extreme poverty and privation.
To the amazement of most Americans and much of the world, the current American government has reacted to this request by treating these most vulnerable of people as if they were dangerous criminals. (It is, by the way, against the law to treat asylum seekers as criminals.)
The Constitution of the United States guarantees every person—every person, not only citizens—the right to equal protection of the law. That means the right to seek redress for grievances, the right against cruel and unusual punishment, the right never to be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process.
Warehousing people—however you describe it, or attempt to justify it—is incompatible with democracy. Extrajudicial detention is an act of tyrants. There is no way for such detentions to be legitimate acts of legitimate public servants.
Worse, people are not just suffering extrajudicial detention. They are suffering the deprivation of their most basic rights, including the right to life:
- Children have died in custody.
- Pregnant women have been denied beds, food, water, and medical attention.
- Children have been illegally detained, separated from their families, and denied medical care, adequate food and water and the right to counsel.
- Overcrowding is so intense, scarcity of food, water and sanitation so extreme, and the physical experience of these detentions so generally stressful, the conditions have been described as torture by investigators.
So far, there has been zero accountability for the deaths, abductions, illnesses, miscarriages forced by denial of care, and systematized cruelty. This should awaken all Americans to the debased nature of our current government.
Regardless of your party, regardless of whether you voted for Donald Trump or hold any remaining faith in his decency, you cannot honor your nation, your God, your family, or any human values, if you do not oppose these abuses.
All of us have an obligation to demand, every day, that our representatives in government end this illegal, inhuman campaign of hate, and seek the prosecution of every individual who has participated in these crimes.
The beauty of this nation is the resilience, openness, decency, and optimism of people resisting injustice. We are not represented by the current occupant of the Oval Office; we are not represented by his amoral worldview or his criminal abuse of defenseless people. All over the country, people will celebrate human freedom today, and enjoy the decency of others in their communities.
This is beyond political differences. This is about whether we want humanity to have any meaning. The very thing we are celebrating requires us to make this right.