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Actor Jay Ellis of HBO’s “Insecure” Condemns Separation of Families at Protest in Brownsville, Texas

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More than a thousand people from across Texas came to protest outside the federal courthouse in Brownsville Thursday, demanding, “Keep Families Together.” Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley are the epicenter of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that criminally prosecutes migrants who cross the border, and has led to the separation of more than 2,000 children from their parents. Speakers included the actor Jay Ellis, who stars in the HBO series “Insecure.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Brownsville, Texas, along the U.S.-Mexico border. Behind me is the border wall, that stretches, in sections, all the way through California. Through this wall, you can see the International Bridge. It just takes a few minutes for a U.S. citizen to walk across it, and you’re in Matamoros, Mexico. But for those coming the other way, it’s not quite so easy. On this bridge, families seeking asylum have been turned away, in violation of U.S. and international law. They’re being told there’s no room or to come back later. Many wait days or weeks in the hot baking sun, sometimes with young children, fearing violence if they return to their home countries.

Here in Brownsville Thursday, more than a thousand people from across Texas came to protest outside the federal courthouse, demanding, “Keep Families Together.” It was one of the biggest protests here in years. Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley are the epicenter of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that criminally prosecutes migrants who cross the border, and has led to the separation of more than 2,000 children from their parents. This week, a federal judge ordered the government to reunite children with their families within 30 days, or 14 days for those younger than 5 years old. The ruling was a response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU, a key sponsor of Thursday’s rally here in Brownsville.

Today we spend the hour with voices of protest. We begin with actor Jay Ellis, one of the stars of Issa Rae’s groundbreaking HBO hit series Insecure.

JAY ELLIS: This is a bit of a homecoming for me. I really don’t talk about it a lot, but Texas has provided for my family for a couple generations. My father was born in Abilene, Texas. My mother, as a child, lived in Austin on an Air Force base called Bergstrom. Years later, I then lived in Austin on that same Air Force base. I have family who lives in Dallas. I have an aunt in Houston. Texas is home to me, y’all.

And when I look back at all these important moments in my life, whether it’s middle school or high school, career, etc., and any success I’ve ever had, it’s because of the people who raised me. And obviously, those first people are my parents and my family, but they’re also immigrants and people who had touchpoints in my life. They’re a Nigerian immigrant who tutored me in calculus and trigonometry every single day in high school. It was a Mexican immigrant who—yeah—who got me—who drove the bus that got me back and forth to school from home safely. Yeah. It was a Chinese immigrant who went on to be my resident adviser when I took summer school at UCLA, and an Iranian Muslim immigrant who helped coach so many of my auditions in my pursuit to become an actor. And that doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands of other immigrants who have come from around the world who have indirectly had some impact on my life. It’s because of all of them that I am here today.

And as a person of color, I look out and I see so many faces of color and so many faces not of color. Thank you for being here with us also. But as a person of color, I have a legacy of family separation behind me, at the hands of this government. And I want the families in those detention centers and the kids in those cages to know that their pain is being seen by people who have experienced the exact same thing for them for generations, and we are here for you.

Now, in the news, some people have called these detention centers like summer camps. But look behind us. Behind us is a courthouse, where people—they’re not summer camps. They’re not. And behind us is a courthouse, where people are being targeted for the crime of wanting a better life for their children, for the crime of wanting to create, to build, to contribute to society, for the crime of seeking asylum. That is not a crime. These facilities this court sends families to be torn apart at are not summer camps. They are detention centers, centers where babies and children are experiencing trauma from being separated from their loved ones and being treated as prisoners. Think about the heartbreak of these parents. Think about the pain of the kids and the children.

I’ve spent weeks now, months now, with them in my mind, hearing the story after story, seeing image after image. And I know all of you have, too, and that’s why you’re here. And I keep seeing these faces. And I see faces of these middle school kids that I worked with when I volunteered for this AmeriCorps program back in Portland, Oregon. And many were first-generation kids, who were here from—with immigrant parents. And they went on to college. They raise families. They’re working. They’re providing. They’re paying taxes. They are contributing to the society, that we all share and that we all live in. And if this current administration had been in power back then, they never would have gotten those opportunities. So when I read about the thousands of immigrants who have been prosecuted for crossing the border, I see those faces, and I see so many of my immigrant friends’ faces. I see my aunts, my uncles, my parents, my grandparents. I see my family. And I think we all see our family when we see these families torn apart.

America has constantly drawn strength and spirit from waves of immigrants, bearing different memories, honoring different heritages. They have strengthened our economy, enriched our culture, renewed our promise of freedom and opportunity for all. And we all came here from somewhere else, y’all. All of us. There’s very, very few people in this country who have roots in this country. And whether it was through slavery or migration, this land flourished because it was fed from so many sources, because it was nourished by so many great cultures and great traditions and great people, who crossed borders to get here. Together we built cities, we built industries, we built movements, we built a culture. And together we can fight this.

Now, y’all know I’ve got to talk about Dr. Martin Luther King real quick. And in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And I think most of us have heard that. The part that sometimes gets lost is: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” That connection, that “single garment of destiny,” is most visible when people are trying to break it. The mutuality is most tangible when someone is trying to tear us apart.

And we all understand and connect to family. Whether it’s the family you were born or whether the family you chose, none of us want to be torn from them. None of us deserve to be torn from them. The government should not tear us from them. It’s not what humans do. It’s not humanity. So, every time we see a family ripped apart, we are ripped apart. It’s because it’s our nieces, it’s our nephews, it’s our brothers, it’s our sisters, it’s our mothers, it’s our fathers, it’s our grandfathers, our grandmothers.

And they’re being kept in kennels, not too far from these courthouse steps, in Brownsville and McAllen and far too many other facilities along this border. Our flesh, our blood, our fears, our dreams, our hopes, our aspiration, our love—they’re being kept in kennels.

That’s why our presence matters, y’all. That’s why our seat at the table matters. That’s why every vote matters. Every message of love and humanity and empathy you can give to these families matters. Every call or letter to your representative matters. Every march, every rally matters.

I need everybody here to do me a favor. I need you to tell people what you’ve seen. I need you to tell people what you’ve heard. Call them. Text them. Email them. Snapchat them. Tweet. Post on Facebook. Tell someone you know. Tell someone you don’t know. Tell them that the government has to stop this and put these families back together. Tell them that these families, these 2,000-plus, 3,000-plus people—we don’t even know the number. Our government doesn’t even know the number.

CROWD: Shame! Shame!

JAY ELLIS: Tell—it is shameful. Tell them that these families need to be put back together and made whole.

And just one more thing. There’s one more face that I’ve been seeing in my mind on my way here, on my flight here last night, and it’s a really good friend of mine. I keep seeing her face. And we had dinner the other night. And she’s an exec at this entertainment company. And she’s super successful and super smart and has traveled all around, and her entire life has benefited from immigrants. And we’re sitting at dinner the other day, and she says, “I don’t know what to do. I want to do something, but I don’t—I don’t know where to start. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do.” And I think a lot of us feel like that sometimes. We want to help. A lot of people want to help, but they feel so far away. I’m from a place where we are in a bubble sometimes, and we don’t see what’s happening right here. Right?

But whether you’re here with us today, in Brownsville, or whether you’re watching on one of these live streams or somebody’s Instagram Live or Twitter or whatever it is, there’s one thing that we can all do. We can all continue to talk about this. We can continue to support this fight. Every conversation, every way we can give voices to this matters, in each state, in each city, in each business, each school and every home.

And we can challenge our lawmakers. Those people sitting in Washington, that we put there, who lose touch with their communities, we can challenge them to do better and be better. We can vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote this fall in the midterms, guys. We can go door to door and register people to vote. We can vote like our rights and our immigrant rights brothers’ and sisters’ rights depend on it, because they do.

There may be people who doubt our sincerity. There may be people who question our empathy. They may think we’ll move on to the next news cycle or whatever the next tweet is. But if you ask, “Do we care?”


JAY ELLIS: Yes, we care!

CROWD: Yes, we care!

JAY ELLIS: If you ask, “Will we fight?” yes, we will fight! If you ask, “Will we stand up?” yes, we will stand up! And if you ask, “Will we look away?” no, we will not look away!

To the families who have been torn apart, we’re out here fighting for you. We are going to do all that we can to help you find your loved ones and to bring your people back to you. Our government may have turned away from you, but please know that our government is not who we, as a people, are. We welcome you into our America. You are accepted, and you are loved, in an America that has been created by so many immigrants. We will continue to fight for that America every single day. Thank you, guys.

AMY GOODMAN: That was actor Jay Ellis, one of the stars of Issa Rae’s groundbreaking HBO hit show Insecure, speaking Thursday at the Families Belong Together rally in front of the federal courthouse here in Brownsville, Texas. I caught up with Jay Ellis after he spoke, and asked him to talk more about the history of family separation in this country.

JAY ELLIS: You know, when you look back over time, this country has a history of separating families, and specifically families of color. And what’s happening now, it may not be the 1700s or the 1800s, but it’s very reminiscent of that in a lot of ways. You’re splitting up families. You’re charging them for crimes. You’re then forcing these parents to work in these detention centers. It’s very reminiscent of times not too long ago. And so, I think that it’s important for us to make sure we don’t repeat history and that people come out and constantly are speaking and talking about this and putting an end to it.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about slavery.

JAY ELLIS: Clearly, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Just came down to the border, but one of our last shows was interviewing Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks, now an Eagle, who took a knee protesting police brutality.


AMY GOODMAN: And just this week, the funeral for Antwon Rose in Pittsburgh, 17-year-old gunned down by a police officer, who was just charged—

JAY ELLIS: Right, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —criminally for that killing. Your thoughts on this?

JAY ELLIS: I think, you know, we find ourselves in a time where there are so many things happening. And what I’m really grateful for is people using their platform to continually shine a light on all these things that are happening, police brutality being a huge one. Obviously, what’s happening here on the border is being another, what’s happening in D.C. daily. I’m grateful that a lot of people are using their voices to speak up. And I hope that the government knows. I hope that our elected officials know that this isn’t something that we’re going to let pass over, until we see change.

I want to send my love and prayers and thoughts out to Antwon’s family and to all the families who have experienced that same thing, because I think that we have to continually acknowledge them and say their names. And I think that’s a big part of making this issue end, is constantly reminding people that these children have lost their lives.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see a connection between these border police actions, the separation of children from their parents, and issues of police in the United States?

JAY ELLIS: A hundred percent. A hundred percent. It may be masked in something different, but it’s 100 percent the same, at the end of the day.

AMY GOODMAN: That was actor Jay Ellis, one of the stars of the HBO hit show Insecure.

When we come back, we’ll air more voices from Thursday’s protest, one of the biggest in Brownsville in years. Over a thousand people came from all over Texas to protest the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, at ground zero. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Y Va Caer,” a new song, released today, by Rebel Diaz featuring Ana Tijoux.

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