Witness: 1) to see or know by personal presence and perception; 2) to be present at; 3) to bear witness, testify to, give or afford evidence of. Random House College Dictionary
Watching someone and that person knows he/she is being watched will change how that person behaves. Sometimes that change can be for the better. Other times the change can be for the worse as the observed person attempts harder to hide what he is doing. That is the story Josh Rubin brought to the Charlotte County showing of the documentary film, “Witness at Tornillo”.
The showing and Josh’s appearance were made possible through the efforts of Indivisible, Charlotte Democratic Hispanic Caucus, and enthusiastic donors. Vielka Wambold, Hispanic Caucus President said the event was produced through the collaborative work of many.
“Witness” captures how Josh has dedicated his life to witnessing the camps holding immigrant children who have been separated from their families. He has stood vigil, often by himself, at two camps, the Tornillo Influx Care Facility in Texas and the Homestead Temporary Influx facility in Florida.
Before the showing Josh, while sharing a meal with his wife Melissa, talked about the movie and what he has personally witnessed. Josh said he felt compelled to be involved after watching TV coverage of the Trump administration separating immigrant children from their families. “I decided I would go down to the border because of what was going on. It was so outrageous what they were doing down there”, Josh said. He went to rallies in El Paso, Brownsville, and Tornillo. He returned home, but with, “the idea that I should try to do something in a sustained way and accomplish something”.
“About then there was a story in the NY Times about the government going around to detention centers around the country and taking teenage kids in the middle of the night and bringing them Tornillo (Influx Care Facility). And I thought, ‘I will go to Tornillo and stay there for a while’. That resulted in a three-month vigil. That ended up with a lot of people showing up and that place shut down.”
After Tornillo closed, the Homestead Temporary Influx Facility became the country’s largest detention camp for immigrant children. “They added 1000 beds there and I decided to go down there”. He met others who were also witnessing what was occurring at the detention camp. The witnesses stood on ladders and held signs for the guards and children to see. “We were watching and letting people know we were watching”, Josh said.
The Homestead detention camp got national attention when the Democratic presidential debate was held in Miami and some of the candidates showed up at the Homestead detention camp. The candidates tried to tour the camp and held press conferences outside. The camp later closed.
If that was the end of the story, that would be a happy ending. But that is not the ending and this is not a happy story: the Trump administration has changed its policies. Previously, immigrants could apply for asylum while inside the United States. Under the new policy, Migrant Protection Protocols, immigrants are not allowed inside the U. S. and must apply for asylum outside the United States.
The Trump administration’s response to being watched is to hide their doings deeper and further away from watching eyes. Read about how witnesses are planning to expose these inhumane policies in Part 2, “Witness and Protest: Brownsville, TX and Matamoros, Mexico”.