Congress, turn a spotlight on hate

A human rights crisis is upon us. Dignity, liberty, and equality are under assault by the Trump administrati...

Posted: Jan 10, 2019 1:37 PM
Updated: Jan 10, 2019 1:38 PM

A human rights crisis is upon us. Dignity, liberty, and equality are under assault by the Trump administration. Now the House must document this moment so that we never repeat it again.

The 116th Congress made history last week. A record number of women Democrats were sworn in, many of them women of color, immigrants, and LGBTQ.

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As the new Congress sat in the chamber for the first time, the Democratic side was replete with vibrant colors and diverse clothing -- a Native Pueblo dress, a resplendent hijab, and a Palestinian thobe. The Republican side looked like an old photograph in a history book -- mostly white men in suits.

There is no shortage of issues that demand the attention of these new lawmakers, from the shutdown to impeachment to immigration. But in order to understand this moment and the suffering of vulnerable communities fully, the 116th Congress must create a clear and inclusive record that documents the human rights abuses committed by the Trump administration. In the United States, special committees and commissions have previously investigated intelligence abuses by the CIA, NSA and other governmental authorities, Japanese incarceration during WWII, and the intelligence failures that led to 9/11. They have been used overseas to document government impunity and extrajudicial killings.

President Donald Trump has waged war on human dignity. The House should respond by following a time-tested approach for dealing with such dire events. They should create a special committee to investigate and document the tragedies spurred by this administration.

Ever since Trump took office, nearly every day has felt like a calamity for many Americans -- the banning of Muslims and asylum seekers, the separation of immigrant families, the rolling back of protections for the transgender community, the war on girls and women, government force and deaths at the border, invasive searches and violations at airports and other ports of entry, and so much more. It's not just Trump's policies; it's the forces he emboldens and intensifies, including bigotry, misogyny, and violence.

In this case, a select House committee would work best because it could be created by a simple majority vote in the House. It would be interdisciplinary and allow experts from different fields in the House to break from their siloed committees and work together to understand this moment. It would also be intersectional in its outlook. The forces that seek to separate an undocumented mother from her child, ban a Muslim from reuniting with his family in America, and subject a transgender student to bullying in school are one and the same. They are part of a systemic and institutional effort to banish, incapacitate, and discriminate against diverse and marginalized communities across this country.

The committee should document the violations that have occurred through rigorous fact-finding, hold public hearings for the world to see, give a platform to survivors and advocates to tell their stories, and lay a foundation for how to move forward.

They should investigate using every tool at their disposal. They should subpoena documents about policies, order policymakers to testify under oath, consult with community advocates and investigative journalists working on the front lines, and hire investigators and observers who can provide additional research and context. So long as the House resolution establishing the committee affords it broad powers, it can carry out its agenda with the same force and authority as any other committee.

We live in a damaged reality, where fake news, or at least the accusation of it, is real. A robust and detailed investigation is thus critical and would help dispel some of the mythology about the present moment. Deprivation and violence are quotidian in Trump's America.

Some may contend that this record is unnecessary because journalists, advocates, and in some cases lawyers and judges, are already doing this work. Yet Congress has investigative powers and tools they lack, journalists and advocates have limited resources, and courts often get it wrong, just as the Supreme Court did with the Muslim ban. Moreover, a Congressional committee carries a different kind of imprimatur and would give institutional and political voice to those who feel silenced and unheard.

There is a long list of people who can speak to the human rights abuses they have suffered under this administration. How about the parents of Jakelin Caal Maquin and Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, ages 7 and 8, both of whom died last month, days after being taken into custody by US border officials? What about Shaima Swileh from Yemen, who was banned for more than a year from seeing her dying toddler son, Abdullah, who suffered from a genetic brain condition, until international pressure forced immigration authorities to grant her a travel waiver? Or Zainab Merchant, an American citizen and graduate student in the US, who was kept overnight at a warehouse by the TSA, forced to turn over her phone and passcode, and even made to show her bloodied menstrual pad to TSA officers?

The findings of the committee should be made public in the form of published reports, open hearings and policy recommendations. A public accounting would help survivors heal, offer the public some catharsis, and may even bring some accountability for the violations that have occurred. For example, we need to know why undocumented children are being held in brutal camps, why some of them still remain separated from their parents, why the United States has all but closed its doors to refugees and people seeking asylum, and more about the inhumane and cruel conditions at immigrant detention centers. We must understand how these abuses were imagined, executed, and enforced, and there is no better way to find out than through rigorous, adversarial questioning under oath.

Public hearings would stand in bright contrast to the policies of the Trump administration, which prioritizes darkness and secrecy over light and transparency. They would also provide a historical archive and serve as a stark reminder of what happened to America under Trump. These hearings should forever be etched in the psyche of the American people, just like the Iran Contra Affair and 9/11 hearings were for preceding generations.

These hearings would spark much needed local conversations as well, in the form of town halls and state hearings. Survivors should be telling their stories, legislators should be listening, and the public should be watching, in every city and state chamber in this country.

The committee must likewise center survivors throughout its work by inviting them to share their stories in the halls of Congress and incorporating their input in policy discussions. Too often the stories of survivors are told by others or excluded from public discourse altogether. Those who write about survivors sometimes exploit their stories and don't even take the time to sit down with them. Others prefer to humanize white supremacists, rather than understanding the impact of their beliefs on others.

The committee should complete its work by charting a new path. The commission which studied Japanese-American incarceration during WWII, for example, recommended a public apology, major civil rights legislation, financial reparations, and other reforms.

It is tempting in the wake of crisis to move forward and ignore the past. There are those who think a public accounting would be too difficult or divisive. But suppressing history is a strategic and moral failure. We must understand what happened before to ensure it doesn't happen again. We must own our wrongs to restore the faith that has been shattered. There can be no reconciliation without accountability.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 941120

Reported Deaths: 15315
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1282511983
Lake633041097
Allen53609758
Hamilton43827447
St. Joseph41906590
Elkhart33545490
Vanderburgh30383448
Tippecanoe26820249
Johnson23609417
Hendricks22250341
Porter21737346
Clark17409229
Madison17366384
Vigo16108281
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LaPorte14311239
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Hancock10841165
Warrick10674177
Bartholomew10542168
Floyd10430205
Wayne9959226
Grant9130204
Morgan8865160
Boone8389111
Dubois7710123
Dearborn762289
Henry7608130
Noble7413101
Marshall7362128
Cass7176117
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Shelby6584111
Jackson656785
Gibson6156107
Harrison603786
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Montgomery5805105
DeKalb574291
Knox5494104
Miami542488
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Orange275859
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Newton144345
Benton142516
Brown135346
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Switzerland125810
Warren114616
Union96911
Ohio79711
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Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1365800

Reported Deaths: 21596
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1522221560
Cuyahoga1344852327
Hamilton976051320
Montgomery670271141
Summit562091047
Lucas50900863
Butler47417655
Stark41580976
Lorain31567532
Warren30001331
Mahoning26963639
Clermont25628292
Lake24585417
Delaware22313145
Licking20487241
Fairfield20420221
Greene20309272
Trumbull19866509
Medina19796287
Clark17879328
Richland16314234
Portage16130229
Wood15681208
Allen14115256
Miami13786253
Muskingum12641152
Wayne11946238
Columbiana11708241
Tuscarawas10953269
Marion10725148
Pickaway10465129
Scioto10324127
Erie9747171
Ross9436176
Lawrence8755125
Hancock8458141
Ashtabula8317185
Geauga8173156
Belmont8140187
Jefferson7527172
Huron7423128
Union731851
Washington7183120
Athens697165
Sandusky6848134
Darke6756136
Knox6671122
Seneca6358137
Ashland5948113
Auglaize587188
Shelby5727101
Brown564171
Mercer557890
Defiance5483101
Madison543371
Crawford5425114
Highland541581
Fulton530683
Clinton525580
Logan512182
Preble4994110
Putnam4833106
Guernsey470364
Williams459282
Perry449852
Champaign445964
Ottawa436884
Jackson425362
Pike388843
Morrow383851
Fayette375853
Coshocton374766
Adams360675
Hardin359069
Gallia347356
Holmes3259108
Henry324668
Van Wert314670
Hocking301769
Wyandot280658
Carroll262652
Paulding242243
Meigs213942
Monroe189749
Noble169340
Morgan165829
Harrison157940
Vinton138118
Unassigned05
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