“A lot of people believe they are free because they are not detained or imprisoned, but they’re locked inside their hearts and minds.”
–Yesica, 22, detained by ICE since 2016
I first heard the word “gaslighting” in reference to Trump, throwing off scrutiny by denigrating those who question his actions. Like many, once I knew the word I could start identifying countless big and small ways I have let myself be duped, belittled, and lied to, by people close to me as well as by public leaders. I have subordinated my own understanding and knowledge to the claims of authorities.
Women are becoming more vocal about how we have not only been harassed, assaulted, and kept down. We also need to confront the ways we feed oppression with our own silence and self-doubt.
Our timidity has not only made us more vulnerable in our personal and professional spaces, it has also kept us from challenging the growth of violent anti-woman, anti-family systems that are targeting Black and Brown people. The prison industrial complex, including the immigrant surveillance, detention, and deportation system managed by ICE, has fattened uncontrollably — while white women like me, who are not targeted, wonder how such rampant injustice can be happening in our democratic nation.
By now, we know the patterns of abuse associated with domestic violence: isolation, threats to children, intimidation. As analysis that accompanies the wheel of power and control emphasizes, too often the police and prison system perpetuate this abuse rather than preventing or protecting women from it. Systems of violence are not only physical; they are carried out through silences, lies, and distortions. ICE’s response to questions about taking an 18 month old baby from its mother, for example: “ICE’s ‘concern always is the health and well-being of that child.’”
For the past two years I have been part of a campaign to release Yesica Jovel from detention in Texas and to lift her order of deportation. In El Salvador, her father was killed for trying to protect her from M-13, and once he was gone, she was tracked down and raped. She will be killed if she is deported. Our government knows all this, and will deport her anyway. It also knows that ICE routinely abuses immigrants in detention. I have come to the conclusion that our justice system is a vast taxpayer-financed extension of the fists of the gangs that are hunting down our beloved Yesica.
Jeff Sessions’ most recent policy decision confirms this analysis: in a classic gaslighting move, he is targeting protections for women fleeing domestic violence, blaming women for creating an immigration system “overloaded with fake claims.” Women, expose the gaslighting. Stop the abusers. Demand that ICE free Yesica, stop separating families, and respect the lives and well-being of women.
Chicago Women Take Action, Steering Committee
Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants, Board Member
Chicago Religious Leadership Network Organizing, Committee member