Recently I was in a Detention Center learning about deportations and I was struck that ICE always used “procedure” to justify their actions—even if actions were inhumane. It hit me that I’ve heard this rhetoric used about Puerto Rico and even Higher Education.
As I walked through the Detention Center I saw people who looked like my uncles and aunts in different colored sweats: Blue if they were low risk, Orange if this was their second time crossing the Border, Red if they were accused of (*not convicted, accused*) of a violent crime. ICE agents walked us around and presented everything that occurred with glowing colors, saying the “bodies” or the “illegals” were given two hours outdoors a day, were given three meals, and even had access to chaplains once a week. All this was “procedure.” One of my students asked the ICE agent about Trans individuals at the Detention Center and the agent responded that “the procedure” was to keep Trans-folks in isolation in the medical wing.
In isolation, because of “procedure.”
Detainees at Port Isabel Detention Center, South Texas
Over and over we asked questions about the treatment of these human beings caught in this horrid and dehumanizing Immigration system and the response from ICE was always the same: “we are limited by our procedure, our hands are tied.”
I’ve been realizing that this is the way institutionally supported atrocities are always put into play: make it “procedure,” threaten that people will lose their jobs if they question “procedure,” reward those who follow “procedure.”
But what if the “procedure” is immoral?
Post Hurricane Maria we've heard reports that when Puerto Rican’s seek FEMA aid after having lost everything it is “procedure” to have them sign a paper indicating they will not seek FEMA aid to come back to Puerto Rico after they leave. This “procedure” effectively aids gentrification.
In Higher Education it is “procedure” at some institutions for students to have to give their external fellowship moneys to the institution after they’ve won them. This “procedure” effectively steals poor student’s chances of momentarily having economic respite.
And I’m still reflecting on this story of a sister who lost their mom, had surgery, dealt with the trauma of assault and was dismissed from her PhD program because of “procedure.”
“Procedure” can function as a disciplining tool, forcing compliance among those who implement it. “Procedure” can assuage guilt, blaming atrocities on something “you have no control over.” “Procedure” can destroy people’s lives...but only in an intricate, sophisticated way...
I don’t think “procedures” have to be bad. They can provide protection, especially for marginalized people, as well as stability and consistency. Yet if the morality of “procedures” are never allowed to be questioned the evil inscribed in them will continuously be perpetuated. We hear this in the work of sociologist Emile Durkheim who talked about the truest values of a society being inscribed in their laws. According to Durkheim this was because values put into law, put into “procedure,” are perpetuated over time no matter the individuals in power. This is why we must always interrogate “procedures.”
And we must particularly interrogate the “procedures” of institutions that were literally built to exclude and oppress. The “procedures” in institutions of Immigration, institutions of Higher Education, institutions forged in colonialism are not morally neutral. When we perpetuate “procedures” as if they are a-moral, we ignore the history that crafted them and the damage they may actively do as a result.
We must be brave to question policies and procedures. Doing so is a moral act.