ICE aids and abets femicide in Central America

“A lot of people believe they are free because they are not detained or imprisoned, but they’re locked inside their hearts and minds.”

 –Yesica, 22, detained by ICE since 2016

I first heard the word “gaslighting” in reference to Trump, throwing off scrutiny by denigrating those who question his actions. Like many, once I knew the word I could start identifying countless big and small ways I have let myself be duped, belittled, and lied to, by people close to me as well as by public leaders.  I have subordinated my own understanding and knowledge to the claims of authorities.

Women are becoming more vocal about how we have not only been harassed, assaulted, and kept down.  We also need to confront the ways we feed oppression with our own silence and self-doubt.

Our timidity has not only made us more vulnerable in our personal and professional spaces, it has also kept us from challenging the growth of violent anti-woman, anti-family systems that are targeting Black and Brown people.  The prison industrial complex, including the immigrant surveillance, detention, and deportation system managed by ICE, has fattened uncontrollably —  while white women like me, who are not targeted, wonder how such rampant injustice can be happening in our democratic nation.

By now, we know the patterns of abuse associated with domestic violence: isolation, threats to children, intimidation.  As analysis that accompanies the wheel of power and control emphasizes, too often the police and prison system perpetuate this abuse rather than preventing or protecting women from it.  Systems of violence are not only physical; they are carried out through silences, lies, and distortions. ICE’s response to questions about taking an 18 month old baby from its mother, for example: “ICE’s ‘concern always is the health and well-being of that child.’”

For the past two years I have been part of a campaign to release Yesica Jovel from detention in Texas and to lift her order of deportation.  In El Salvador, her father was killed for trying to protect her from M-13, and once he was gone, she was tracked down and raped.  She will be killed if she is deported. Our government knows all this, and will deport her anyway.  It also knows that ICE routinely abuses immigrants in detention.  I have come to the conclusion that our justice system is a vast taxpayer-financed extension of the fists of the gangs that are hunting down our beloved Yesica.

Jeff Sessions’ most recent policy decision confirms this analysis: in a classic gaslighting move, he is targeting protections for women fleeing domestic violence, blaming women for creating an immigration system “overloaded with fake claims.”  Women, expose the gaslighting. Stop the abusers. Demand that ICE free Yesica, stop separating families, and respect the lives and well-being of women.









Just Numbers

 Their hope bursts out of a system designed to thwart it.

                                                        –Program Notes, Just Numbers

Darius pokes his head around the corner to make sure the coast is clear.  He holds his breath, all senses on alert.  Is there graffiti warning him of new territorial shifts? Not this morning.  He sprints to the bus, gets on it safely, and can breathe while the bus takes him across the city and drops him off a few blocks away from his school.  He gets off and skirts dangerous territory, passes under an overpass where new tags are going up.  The taggers look at him but don’t follow him.  Darius survives another morning commute.

And gets to school 5 minutes late.  He is sent to the principal, and to detention.

It doesn’t take a whole lot of brains to understand that a child whose commute is anything like this is not in a state to learn.  And that rather than sitting that child in detention, or in a test, or test prep, we adults need to offer healing now and community safety long term.  Once our children are safe, we can turn our attention to education.

Darius’ story is one of six that, along with impressive ensemble poetry, make up Just Numbers, the new Chicago Slam Works play.  Why do adults need to watch other adults performing a play from kids’ perspectives?  Because we aren’t listening to the kids’ voices.  Students are hidden from public view in their schools, in segregated neighborhoods.  But over and over the students in the play remind us: they aren’t blind; they see exactly what’s going on.  They see they are pawns in a game of powerful players whose rhetoric of student achievement masks self-serving economic and political machinations.  Students’ actual lives, interactions, and thoughts are presented against a background of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s speeches on education policy, which sound distant, irrelevant, and offensively glib.

Chicago Public School students are very clear about what they need: safety, health, parents who can be present for them, who are not forced to work multiple jobs, who are not in prison, killed, or deported, and teachers who will not be replaced next year or next week.  And in the classroom: an education that respects students’ intelligence and humanity.

In case white parents in Chicago – half of whose children don’t go to CPS — don’t understand why teachers voted to go on strike next week, this play offers a point-by-point lesson: from the questionable funding, operating, and staffing of charter schools, to the high-stakes testing forced on Black and Brown children.


This is not public education.  Public education means that all children are valued, that people hold accountable the system, its architects and decision-makers, not individual teachers and students.  Many Americans have bought into the education reform emphasis on test scores, but the world’s most successful education system rejects testing — and calls out the testing profiteers.  Finnish education minister Pasi Sahlsberg insists: a successful public education system is based on equity of quality education.  It values informal learning and emphasizes reciprocal trust between students, teachers, parents, and administrators.  “Measuring of what matters in school is difficult, if not impossible. It is character and mind that matter… not being among winners in knowledge tests.”

Public education requires that the voices of people in schools – students, teachers, and parents – are at the center of decision-making about schools, both in the classroom and in the district.  Not bankers, realtors, and politicians.  Let’s act like a public: let’s listen to public school students and teachers, take seriously their stories, their questions, and their ideas, and demand that our leaders stop treating them like “just numbers.”