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Supporting Workers Who Refuse

By Doug Parker, Executive Director

Sympathy for the workers who are participating in the separation of families is not the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the heartbreaking cries of children in detention centers. Or the second. But recent coverage by Democracy Now! of the nonprofit Southwest Key, which has had almost a billion dollars in contracts with Homeland Security to run child detention centers, reminded me that a small part of this shameful story deals with the impact on workers.

Whistleblower Antar Davidson explained in an interview what it is like to be one of the workers in these facilities. Davidson resigned from his job at a Southwest Key facility in Arizona after witnessing the cruel and dehumanizing policies workers at these centers are asked to enforce. The final straw came when he was ordered to tell three siblings from Brazil – ages 16, 10 and 8 – that they couldn’t console one another with a hug. 

I applaud Mr. Davidson for his courage in speaking out and for the principles that led him to resign. However many workers don’t have that option. As Davidson points out in the interview, the vast majority of these workers are working for low wages, without benefits, and with minimal training. Many of these centers are in locations with limited job options. And like him, many took jobs for organizations like Southwest Key because they thought they could help.

The institutional dehumanizing of detained people is well known to have long-term mental health effects, on both the victims and on those who carry out the policies. We have a moral imperative to demand more humane policies towards immigrants and immigrant children, not just because of the harm it does to them, but also because of the harm it does to us.