While these are trying times for many, the case of “GE” is a reminder that community outrage and community action can make a difference.
Yesterday, a little over a week after the San Francisco Chronicle broke the news about the detainment of GE through the ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) program, and days after Indivisible Yolo announced a 1:30 protest in front of the Juvenile Detention Center (which remains on), and through hard work on behalf of Yolo County officials, GE was released from custody into a foster home that will include intensive therapy to deal with the trauma from both his homeland and from this process.
In a release from Yolo County late on Monday, they noted that on March 9 (Thursday) they requested “written permission from ORR to take custody of the child and assume responsibility for the child’s placement and care.”
Yolo County on Monday, through its HHSA (Health & Human Services Agency) and child welfare team, on Monday “immediately took on all responsibility for the child upon receiving ORR’s notice.”
The Vanguard learned that it was public outrage that drove Yolo County to do the right thing here, responding to public interest and concerns expressed for the child.
Officials have told the Vanguard that this was a complete failure on the part of the federal government. What changed is that community action convinced the county to step up and take responsibility and do right by this kid.
Unfortunately, as the Vanguard would learn over the weekend, GE is not alone. There are other kids like GE caught in the web of the ORR system, some of whom remain in Woodland.
The Chronicle, which first broke the story, reported: “On Monday afternoon, the boy stepped out of the Woodland facility into the sunshine — headed for a therapeutic Spanish-speaking foster home, his San Francisco attorney said. He was welcomed with a meal of pollo asado and given a new wardrobe of clothes donated by a retired judge.”
As Yolo County put it: they acted quickly and consistently with the value of “doing right by others.”
But for me it was the comments of Holly Cooper from the UC Davis Immigration Law Center that struck a chord. For her, this isn’t an isolated incident. She told me this weekend that for years she had been wondering: where is the outrage?
The easy excuse for many of us is that we simply do not know. But the reality is that we should have known. The landscape of this country and this community, however, has been forever altered by the events that have occurred since November 8.
In a Facebook post Holly Cooper writes, “I remember wondering, ‘Where is all the outrage?’ It is hard to listen to the laughter of free children after you leave a jail where children are crying.”
But she adds that, today, “a child was released because there was outrage. There was accountability demanded from our community. A magical child who can wiggle his ears. Whose dimples light up the room when he smiles. A magical child whose first request upon leaving a jail was to write a thank you letter to the man who donated him clothing.”
But while many will applaud and celebrate the release of GE – and rightly so – this is a reminder that there is more work to do. The article that we published on Sunday includes any number of other children who are in a similar predicament to GE.
We need to keep the pressure on the county to make sure that all of those kids are also valued and remembered.
We need to keep the pressure on the county so they can make sure that those kids are not forgotten.
We need to keep the pressure on the county so that we can make sure there is justice for all in our community.
But finally, this small episode is a reminder that we have the capacity through direct action to make change in the lives of those who are suffering and in the world that we live in. In the scheme of things this is a small deal, but, who knows, the actions of many may have saved the life of this young man and put his life on a new trajectory where anger and hatred is replaced with love and understanding.
In the Talmud it says that “whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”
Let us not forget the power of community outrage and put that outrage to work to save the community, one person at a time.
—David M. Greenwald reporting