Regardless of whatever your political views are, the recent crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border regarding the separation of migrant children from their parents while seeking freedom, political asylum, and eventual U.S. citizenship has become one of epic proportions.
The situation has now become a national controversy thanks to the “zero-tolerance” policy of the current Trump Administration, which calls for the prosecution of all immigrants who illegally crossed into the United States at the southwest border.
According to the website Politifact, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions officially announced the policy back on April 6th as a deterrent to illegal immigration. As a direct result: at least 2,342 children were separated from the adults they were traveling with between May 5 and June 9, officials have said.
But by July 6th, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department gave a vaguer figure of “under 3,000” children in its custody, which could include children separated at the border before May 6. The number also included children who were separated for other reasons such as safety concerns and children who, “could have been separated from a parent prior to crossing the U.S. border.”
The government missed a deadline set by a federal judge to reunite all children under 5 years old with their parents by July 10th. The judge ordered children 5 and older to be reunited by July 26th.
As of July 12th, government-provided reunification data said 103 children under 5 years old were covered by the court order. Of those, 57 were reunified and 46 were ineligible for reunification.
The administration said it could not return about half of those 46 children to their parents due to safety concerns. The remaining children’s parents had been deported or were in custody for other reasons.
In one instance, the location of a parent had “been unknown for over a year.” The human services department on July 10th said records showed the parent and child “might be U.S. citizens.”
On June 23rd, DHS said it had reunited at least 522 children who had been in its custody and not yet transferred to HHS. Since their parents’ criminal proceedings happened quickly, the children and parents were reunited and transferred together to the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DHS said.
Since that time, there have been mixed messages about this from administration officials. Trump’s subsequent executive order that he issued days later did not say the policy to prosecute immigrants for illegal entry was over.
Sessions, on June 25th, said they would continue to prosecute adults who enter the United States illegally. But on that same day, CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan said his agency had temporarily stopped referring adults traveling with children for prosecution.
In any event, the policy was and is a bad one — and NFL star and New Orleans Saints starting middle linebacker Demario Davis had decided that he had seen enough.
It was late last month, when the 29-year old Davis, the team’s top acquisition this past off-season in 2018 NFL Free Agency, took the initiative to help immigrant children separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border in South Texas. He teamed with his very good close personal friend, Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman to spend more than $10,000 on supplies and food.
Norman himself had originally seen the reports about how thousands of children have been separated from their families while illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on the network news, so on that next Tuesday, he and Davis flew out to San Antonio to help, per USA TODAY Sports‘ Mike Jones.
Jones reported that the two spent about $10,000 on supplies and food while they were there. Davis and Norman were subsequently hailed as heroes for their efforts, and deservedly so.
Since that time, Davis and Norman have shared photos on social media over the past few weeks. On Instagram, Davis wrote in posts he shared that, “A little can do a lot! #EndFamilySeparation,” and, “I don’t care how much the world hates, I will always choose love.”
Norman wrote, “There wasn’t a lot I could do about what they had been through & their current situation. But I knew I could at least bring a smile to their faces even if it was just for a brief moment in time.”
As the reports of Davis and Norman’s genuine concern and acts of kindness spread throughout the worlds of both political news and professional sports (including this brilliant profile by New Orleans Advocate writer Joel A. Erickson that you can read by clicking HERE), it was our Publisher and Big Easy Magazine CEO Scott Ploof who originally reached out to Demario on my behalf, for a face-to-face interview.
But unfortunately, Demario was still at his home at that time in his native Mississippi, where he had just finished hosting his annual Youth Football Camp in conjunction with his high school alma mater, Brandon High School (located just outside of Jackson).
However, Demario was kind enough to grant us an interview over the phone, and what follows for the remainder of this story that you’re reading is Davis’ own recounting — in vivid detail — about the events that unfolded once he and Norman arrived in San Antonio.
But as Demario relates to me at the start of our interview, it was actually his wife, Tamela, who was the one that encouraged him to get involved with helping in the treatment of immigrants.
“She said, ‘If you feel strongly about it, find a way to do something about it. She really encouraged me. So, when I got the call from Josh, it was something we both knew had to be done….and so we went.”
Davis and Norman partnered with the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services Texas (RAICES), a San Antonio non-profit that helps give supplies to migrant families who are reunited at bus stops in San Antonio.
They arrived in San Antonio and went to a Wal-Mart where they bought six shopping carts full of items for children — everything from toys to coloring books, soccer balls to toiletries.
“The people started hugging us. The most genuine smiles and hugs. They didn’t know us, didn’t know how to speak the language or anything like that. But it just showed that a little bit of love can go a long way. It was just something so special to see.”
It’s that heart-warming description of the events that took place, where our brief but informative interview begins in earnest; and I pose a very short list of prepared questions written by Big Easy Magazine publisher / CEO Scott Ploof and myself, to hopefully gain a true sense of what Davis experienced regarding the current Trump Administration’s cruel, heartless, and inhumane policy; as well as his thoughts on the upcoming 2018 NFL season.
QUESTION #1. You recently posted on Instagram that: “A little can do a lot! #EndFamilySeparation.” and “I don’t care how much the world hates, I will always choose love”. What has the Social Media response been to this, and what are your specific thoughts regarding online activism?
Davis: “Initially, my first instinct was to stay silent; because as a professional athlete, you have to be very careful about making yourself bigger than the headline itself, and that’s not what we wanted to do.”
But this particular issue was just too big — too pressing of a need — to be ignored or overlooked. I knew that I had to say or do SOMETHING about this situation, but yet expressing myself in a manner that could draw the attention and focus that this whole situation needs to have.”
“I didn’t want to just go on Social Media and have some kind of a “rant” as others are known to do sometimes, so this way seemed to be the best possible approach at dealing with what was going on, but in our own special way”.
“As I mentioned, it was Tamela (my wife) who encouraged me to (physically) take action, and as she told me: “You need to do something that lets your actions speak louder than your words”. So I called up Josh and we discussed it, and there wasn’t any doubt…and Josh said: “Let’s do this”.
QUESTION #2. Saints fans are well-known for their devotion and loyalty to the franchise, but in the wake of President Trump’s policy separating migrant children from their parents, your actions of concern through speaking up for and assisting these young children — who don’t have a voice of their own — have made many Saints fans even prouder of the team. How did the first initial reports of what was going on, affect you personally? What inspired you to take action specifically?
Davis: “It’s what we are taught in the Bible: “Love thy neighbor, as you would love thyself”. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”
“But it takes a willingness on our parts as human beings, to find a way to do something that has meaning and brings attention to what you’re trying to achieve. When we got down there, it was seeing the humanity of other people in situations that no one person or family should ever be subjected to, that truly inspired us to do even more”.
“We just wanted to give them a day of peace, and what better way to do it than through an act of kindness or an act of love for our fellow man….As I said earlier, we (Josh and I) could have taken to Social Media and just have gone off with some sort of a “rant”, but that wouldn’t have been nearly as effective as being there in person and taking the initiative.
“If we were to get an estimate of how many people reacted to our trip favorably or negatively, only 2 to 3% of the people who responded or commented back on Social Media did so with criticism. So 97% of those who responded did support us, which shows what we can do for our fellow man in the most difficult of situations.”
“Sometimes, it’s doing the little things that actually do a lot”.
QUESTION #3. You’ve chosen to work with the non-profit organization Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (known by its acronym, RAICES). What did you base that partnership upon, and why was it important to you?
Davis: “Josh and I wanted to do something on behalf of these people, who have no means to take care of themselves once they arrive at the border.”
“Think about this: there are multiple buses that arrive EVERY DAY, most filled to capacity with women and small children. It’s the children specifically whose situations are in dire need; since none of them can speak the language and for the most part simply end up being “released into the wild” so to speak, with no concern or regard for what will happen to them in the future.”
“And then they’re forced to have to wait around until they’re finally given a court date that only 1% usually ever win — because 9 out of 10 of them either miss the court date due to a lack of information (because of the language barrier), or otherwise they’re just outright denied legal entry into the U.S.”
“Additionally, it would cost them approximately $25,000 alone just in legal fees, something that a mother and her child who are fleeing violence from their home country for example, just cannot afford when they arrive. It’s become an impossible system that someone in their situation, can ever hope to get through”.
“So our mission is to have someone there to meet them in person once they arrive on the bus in San Antonio, and in their own language, can give them the necessary information about how to get sponsorship and to eventually be granted a court date for a ruling on their status, with the representation of legal counsel”.
“By us getting them the legal assistance they need with an interpreter and helping to alleviate the costs for an immigration attorney, 50% are able to win their individual cases, with the proper legal representation that they’d otherwise have to do without.”<“Additionally, more than 90% of children with representation continue on with their court case. Children with representation are five times more likely to be successful in their case that children who go to court alone. Representation is often the last line of safety for the children; most who are very vulnerable to exploitation by both an out-dated system and a country who’s current immigration policies are hostile to their presence”.
QUESTION #4. Being at the scene when some of these children were reunited with their families after weeks and even months of separation, can you describe some of the reactions that you were witness to? Do you have any particular moments of joy or possibly even heart-break, that you’d care to share with us?
Davis: “It was an incredible experience. There are 3 buses that arrive in San Antonio daily, and Josh and I both knew that even though we didn’t speak their language, it would be our actions and how we could treat them with an act of kindness, that could speak much louder than words ever would”.
“On that first day, in particular, there were 2 buses that we were there for when they arrived; all women and children. There weren’t ANY men, at all”.
“And these are women and children who speak no English and have no family members here in this country to be reunited with. These are families that end up in “limbo”, after basically being dropped off in the middle of nowhere from their perspective. So you can understand their fear and apprehension at that point”.
“But we were sure to have a translator present when they arrived, and they were told that we were NFL players that just wanted to help them out in any way that we could. We had book bags filled with snacks and supplies, and once the ladies realized exactly what it was that we were doing, they smiled and gave us big hugs of appreciation.”
“Then we brought in a bunch of stuff to get the children to lighten up a bit, in order for them to not have to be so scared anymore. We gave them coloring books, crayons, stuffed animals and every kid’s favorite — pizza! — as a gesture to let them know they were now in a good place”.
Their reactions were ones of joy, happiness, and pure excitement; and we were certain once we had left that we’d given them an experience that neither they or Josh and myself, would ever forget”.
QUESTION #5: In observing your recent Tweets on Twitter and your other posts on various Social Media sites, it’s obvious that you are very motivated to speak out against hate, bigotry, intolerance, and injustice everywhere it is taking place. In the past year, hate crimes and racial division has increased; and even football fans are becoming divided among one another. What would you like your personal message to them and to the local New Orleans community, be right now? Is there anything you personally are hoping for or would like to see happen?
“Division amongst ourselves as a community or as a family is never a good thing obviously. Unfortunately, we now live in a world today where even family members that live in the same house together, are having disagreements over what’s been happening in our society”.
“There’s a difference, however, between having empathy and sympathy. Sympathy is feeling compassion, sorrow, or pity for the hardships that another person encounters, while empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of another and trying to actually relate to what they’ve had to experience in the past”.
“There’s also a difference between equity and equality. Both can be used in an effort to produce fairness, but there’s a stark contrast between the two principles. Equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful. Equality is treating everyone the same. The goal of equality is to promote fairness and seeing each of us be treated as equals in spite of our political, cultural, and personal differences, but it only works when everyone shares the same vision for our future”.
“We’re all familiar with the famous expression: “a house divided against itself, cannot stand”. We are the UNITED States of America for a reason; and in this day and age, that seems to have been forgotten”.
“We need to stand up for the victims, not the oppressors. We need to have empathy and have respect for what others may be going through. We don’t need to ostracize or oppress, but rather simply put ourselves in their shoes, to gain or comprehend a true sense of what someone else has to live with every single day”.
“In order to get past this difficult period in our history, we need UNITY — but you can’t be unified as a people, without respecting one another first. I’m hopeful that in time, we will all find a way to respect each other once again”.
QUESTION #6: It’s often been said that sports can bring people together, and never was that more evident than when the Saints won the Super Bowl nearly a decade ago following the 2009 season. After that victory particularly, a “wave” of harmony and good will existed among all of New Orleans’ citizens; and the city becomes united as never before. The crime rate actually decreased, and Republicans and Democrats even managed to find common ground and a mutual respect for one another. Do you believe that winning another Super Bowl could once again reunite this city, and if so — how do you feel that we can make the “good will” actually last this time around?
Davis: “I don’t think New Orleans needs to win another Super Bowl to become “united” once again. That’s probably more “hype”, than anything else”.
“Sure we want to win the Super Bowl for our great fans, but the REAL victories are the “small wins” that eventually will come first in our homes, in our families, in our city and community”.
And as I mentioned; those “small wins” come with having the capacity for things such as respect, empathy, compassion, and a sense of human decency, within all of us”.
“Remember this: your “little” can do SO MUCH. You can let your actions speak for you, in a positive way. But it only happens, when we have the willingness to make the effort”.
QUESTION #7: You’ve been embraced and become very popular with the Saints fan-base since your arrival here to New Orleans, especially by those from your native state of Mississippi. How excited are you about representing them and the franchise, given how close this team appears to be at winning a Super Bowl title?
Davis: “Well, this is my “backyard” (laughing). Growing up here (in Mississippi), the Saints were always seen as the home team for us, and so it means a lot to be playing in front of my family and friends, many of whom have supported me every step of the way”.
“I’m excited now to be with a great group of guys who are Super Bowl contenders and an up-and-coming young defense that I get the chance to be a part of.”
“And — I get to play with Drew Brees! How great is that?!”
As our interview concludes and I hang up the phone, I’m completely awestruck by the conversation that I’ve just had with #56, the starting “Mike” / middle linebacker for my own hometown team and the franchise that I cover professionally on a daily basis, the New Orleans Saints. But not just because Demario Davis plays for the Saints, but rather for WHO he is as a person.
In our entire interview, not once did Davis ever invoke politics or take sides in the never-ending bitterness that has enveloped our nation in the current war of Liberal vs. Conservative, Democrat vs. Republican; despite the obvious temptation that he no doubt feels (and has personally seen and witnessed with his own eyes), thanks to the Trump Administration’s bungled attempt at border enforcement.
Instead, he just did so with a tremendous amount of grace, humility, dignity, compassion, and a deeply-rooted sense of religious faith and morality, which have made him one of the classiest individuals in all of professional sports.
And with that realization, it finally “hits” me harder than any lick that #56 can put on an opponent:
Demario Davis has already made the New Orleans Saints “winners,” in more ways than one.