The holiday season surrounds us with all kinds of lights: from the soft glow of candles to colorful bulbs and pyrotechnics shot into the midnight sky. They embody the spirit of the season and offset the diminishing days of the coming winter.
It’s almost impossible not to see a similarity between the waning daylight hours and the gathering darkness of our national policy towards immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. But just how dark is the darkness?
The International Alliance to End Genocide has identified 10 stages in a genocidal society. The final two are extermination and denial. Of the preceding eight stages, it is startling to learn that we meet six of them already when it comes to immigrants and asylum seekers — those already in our midst.
One of the important hallmarks of genocide is dehumanization, which the alliance defines as “the denial of humanity to the other group; members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects, or diseases.” According to a USA Today analysis, our president has used words like “animal,” “infestation,” “snake,” “predator,” “invasion,” “criminal,” and “killer” in referring to immigrants over 500 times since 2017 — language that has been amplified in the minds and media surrounding him.
Another hallmark of genocide is the use of emergency proclamations, which “grants the dominant group total power over the targeted group,” according to the website genocidewatch.org. Earlier this year our president declared a national emergency at our southern border to gain access to $8 billion in federal funds for border security, which was being restricted by Congress. Invoking the same emergency, his administration implemented several rules with shortened public comment periods, or proclaimed them as interim rules, effective immediately, before any public comment. Similarly, Boston’s immigration judges were reassigned to border “tent courts,” leaving their local cases in limbo.
In the eighth stage, persecution, “children are forcibly taken from their parents.” Here in modern-day America we learned that 2,800 families were separated under our “zero tolerance policy,” which was eventually discontinued — at least by official account. The New York Times and others have reported otherwise.
The bottom line is that American society can now be called pre-genocidal. But while we cannot underestimate the darkness, neither can we underestimate the power of light to overcome it, nor the power of individual direct action, some of which is being done here locally.
For example, all of the towns of the Outer Cape have passed safe community articles at town meeting, challenging the “immigrant as criminal” storyline and winning the day. The Nauset Interfaith Association, whose territory includes the Outer Cape, interceded in a local asylum seeker’s case, and ultimately reunited his family here. The First Parish Brewster, which has many congregants from the Outer Cape, recently elected to sponsor an asylum-seeking family.
The gathering darkness has served to inspire many locals to engage in civic and personal action. To swing the pendulum towards the other side, away from darkness, we just have to reach down deep inside ourselves and share the light within.
As we give gifts this season, we can reflect, too, on those we’ve been given, the talents and inclinations which contribute to our unique identity. These are the brightest and most powerful tools we have to dispel the darkness and push towards spring.