Our 2019 Human Rights Award Laureates Reflect America’s Ideals

Over 50 years ago, Robert Kennedy recognized the inhumanity and injustice of the American immigration system. He visited Delano, California to discuss the rights of farm workers and immigrants with Cesar Chavez, and joined him in breaking a 60 day fast. Chavez was spearheading a farm worker strike, and after his visit to California, RFK was eager to join the fight and advocate on their behalf in the Senate.

When given the opportunity to share some words, RFK reiterated the importance and value of diversity. “One of the primary purposes of civilization, and certainly its primary strength, is the guarantee that family life can flourish in unity, peace, and order. But the current system separates families coldly and arbitrarily. It keeps parents from children and brothers from sisters for years and even decades. Thus, it fails to recognize simple humanity. It fails to recognize the legitimate interests of large numbers of American citizens.”

Unfortunately, this comment rings just as true today. The measure of a nation is how it treats those most vulnerable. Today, our government officials are punishing those who are seeking safety. This is not a generational issue. It is ongoing.

Over the past two years, the human rights violations perpetrated at our nation’s southern border have tragically escalated. Children as young as four months have been ripped from their guardian’s arms. Brothers are separated from sisters indefinitely in foster care. At least six children have died at the hands of ICE.

This overwhelming crisis at the border is what drives our 2019 Human Rights Award laureates to action. These organizations (Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee, Angry Tias and Abuelas Of RGV, and La Union del Pueblo Entero – LUPE) are championing essential direct services at the border. DMSC connects freed detainees with legal council, monitors detention centers for abuse, and reconnects separated families. The Angry Tias restore dignity to those who have been stripped of their agency in detention centers. LUPE spearheads community organizing and advocacy for immigration reform.

During the Human Rights Award Ceremony, Juanita Valdez-Cox, the Executive Director of LUPE, urged the audience to patriotically support immigration advocacy and emphasized our responsibility to carry on the fight for equality. “LUPE is rooted in the sweat, tears, hard work, dedication and the many other struggles of immigrant and farmworker families,” she said. “I, like those other LUPE members who are with us today, joined the movement to stand against the labor violations that our parents were suffering in the fields. Before you, I would like to recognize the struggle of the generations that continue to strive for justice.” The fight Bobby Kennedy joined that day in California with Cesar Chavez is far from over, and it is our responsibility to keep advocating, striking, protesting, and speaking out for as long as is necessary.

During her remarks at the HRA ceremony, Kerry Kennedy reminded the RFK staff, laureates, and visitors that the current situation at the border, while not uncommon or new, is still not normal or tolerable. “If immigration reflects our faith in an American ideal, I fear the current xenophobic political climate has led to a terrible crisis of faith. The President of the United States now cheers on inhumane family separation policies. This administration reports the deaths of six migrant children in federal custody as if this is just the cost of doing business. It is not. It is cruelty. It is torture. It is wrong.”

Her words directly reflect those of her father and serve as a reminder that persistence is what drives change, generation by generation. As for the dwindling faith she describes, I sense a restoration of belief in the continued efforts of our 2019 Human Rights Award laureates. Si, se puede!

Caroline is a rising junior at American University in Washington, D.C. She is spending her summer as a communications intern at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.