Former Children's Immigration Shelter Worker On Why He Quit Following Policy Change05:56
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Tents to house unaccompanied migrant children are seen at the Tornillo-Marcelino Serna Port of Entry on June 18, 2018 in Tornillo, Texas. (Christ Chavez/Getty Images)
Tents to house unaccompanied migrant children are seen at the Tornillo-Marcelino Serna Port of Entry on June 18, 2018 in Tornillo, Texas. (Christ Chavez/Getty Images)

Antar Davidson was working for a nonprofit group in a shelter in Tucson for children crossing the border illegally or unaccompanied, until the Trump administration's new "zero-tolerance" policy led him to quit his job.

Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson talks with Davidson (@AntarDeSa) about the decision.

Interview Highlights

On why he quit

"When you're in a job as intense as this, you don't really care about the news. You get home, you want to chill. You wake up in the morning, you want to prepare for your job. So I was fairly out of the news cycle as this happened. I only noticed the difference based on a very noticeable uptick in general behavioral issues at the shelter. More and more young kids were coming, they were behaving more and more traumatized. One thing that I really want people to understand is, the audio clip that came out that was so grating to everyone's ears, that's something that we began to hear every single night, more kids crying like that. And so it just became, at a point, too much. When the organization was basically handling it more with an authoritarian approach and a very bad approach to this, I decided that I could no longer be part of the organization."

"I realized that if I stayed, despite the good I was doing, in order to keep the job, I was going to have to start doing things that I felt were very much against my morals."

Antar Davidson

On what he saw

"There was a night in which the first Brazilians of the facility came, and they were 16, 10 and 8. They had just been separated from their mother the night before. They weren't given a bed the entire day. I was the only person that spoke Portuguese to them. So they — in the night, after not having slept all day and not being given a bed — they were told that they would be separated, all three of them, in a different room. They were told in kind of broken Spanish. So they understood that they would just be separated. So the two younger siblings, they had grasped the older brother, and they were all three crying, and they wouldn't break up. And they called me to come over and translate to these kids that they weren't allowed to hug, to which I responded, 'I don't know that that's what I'm going to say, but I'm on my way to help.'

"I arrived before the shift leader to this scene of these three siblings holding desperately onto each other. The little sibling saying, 'Please, please, where's our mom? Please don't separate us.' Like, to their brother, 'Please can we stay with you.' And I came up to him, and I said, 'Bro, I know this is a tough situation, but you have to be strong in this situation. You have to be strong for your brother and sister.' And he looks at me with tears in his eyes and he says, 'How?' He looks me dead in my eyes and says, 'How? How can I be strong in a situation like this? Where's my mom?' To which I could only respond by basically just putting my head down.

"And then the shift leader arrived, and she very aggressively told me, 'Diles que no pueden abrazar. Tell them they can't hug.' And I told her directly, 'No. As a human, I can't do that. You're welcome to do it yourself.' To which she responded to me that she was going to report me to the shift supervisor. And she immediately went over to these kids, crying and imminently being separated, she felt it was appropriate to remind these kids that she should enforce the no-touch policy that the organization had. I realized at that moment that that was something that I couldn't be involved in. I only stayed two more days, and on Tuesday I handed in my resignation as a conscientious objector."

On thinking about staying at the shelter to help the situation

"I had a huge, very successful capoeira class, I spoke to many kids. I took a very strong initiative to get to know these kids, to learn their names. The reason I didn't quit earlier was because I would come home and I would tell my fiance different things that were happening and how badly I wanted to quit. And she said, like, 'If you leave, who's going to provide for these kids what you've provided?' This instance, it illustrated to me that until that time, I had been able to provide a very special service to these kids, which was the capoeira, I was teaching English classes, vocational classes. I was able to do that without being told to do things that would go against my morals. But at that moment, when I was told to tell these kids not to hug, I realized that if I stayed, despite the good I was doing, in order to keep the job, I was going to have to start doing things that I felt were very much against my morals. And I realized that it's not just my morals that these actions are against, but ultimately against the morals of the entire world."

"The idea that this is a deterrent is completely detached from the reality. The less enemies you create, the more secure you are. In this instance, we're creating enemies."

Antar Davidson

On the argument that a "zero-tolerance" policy is necessary for border security

"That's the kind of border security and ideas that a person who lives thousands of miles from the border and sits behind a security detail thinks. I live 60 miles from the border. I live in a regular, two-bedroom house. No one is more concerned about border security than me. But it completely ignores the reality. The majority of people coming here are escaping these gangs and these organizations that we're supposed to be protecting from. This trauma and this sort of behavior enacted on children now give these kids — who perhaps might have joined a gang like this for economic reasons — now gives them ideological reasons, and in the long run is essentially making us much less safe. The idea that this is a deterrent is completely detached from the reality. The less enemies you create, the more secure you are. In this instance, we're creating enemies."

This segment aired on June 20, 2018.

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