Refugees Under A Bridge–Our Latest National Shame (Video)

Every month we are discovering more horrors to which we are subjecting people at our Southern border whose only crime is trying to gain asylum from violence responsible for tearing their countries and lives apart.

In June, the Trump administration tested the limits of its anti-immigrant stance by admitting (after denying) and reaffirming its practice of divorcing refugee children from their parents crossing into the United States.

Then we learned of another atrocity.

According to legal affidavits filed April 23, 2018 in U.S. District Court in California, refugee children in U.S. custody were being injected with psychotropic drugs that inflict dizziness, lethargy, and sometimes incapacitation.

In September, the Trump administration transferred $9.8 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster relief budget to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for more migrant detention camps.

Then came news in November that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) unleashed a tear gas attack on unarmed men, women, and children asylum seekers.

In December, two migrant children died in CBP custody.

In January, an Office of Inspector General (OIG) report revealed not only did the U.S. government separate thousands more children from their parents than previously thought; it was separating them before authorities admitted a child separation policy was in place, which Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen initially denied existed.

February, we learned ICE is nasally force-feeding at least half a dozen detainees engaged in hunger strikes to protest conditions at the Texas facility to which they have been imprisoned.

February also saw a Salvadoran transgender woman‘s death after she was denied asylum and deported.

Then in MarchNBC KNSD-TV obtained documents confirming CBP officers have a list of 59 individuals, mostly American journalists, lawyers, and activists, intended to be stopped and questioned at San Diego-area checkpoints for meeting with or aiding asylum seekers from the Honduran caravan on the Mexican side of the border.

That we know of to date, four asylum seekers have died in CBP custody.

This week, we learn U.S. immigration officials are penning in hundreds behind chain-link razor wire fencing and forcing them to sleep on the ground in a temporary outdoor detention camp beneath the Paso Del Norte International Bridge linking Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas.

Honduran woman N. Rosales (not her real name), who crossed into the U.S. with her son and spent about three days under the bridge until relocated to a Border Patrol processing facility holding cell, reported to BuzzFeed News:

 “I see it as a punishment for entering the country illegally. Time moved so slow, it seemed like an eternity.”

Andrew Meehan, CBP assistant commissioner for public affairs, explained Border Patrol had for several months issued warnings that “the immigration system is broken” and at “critical capacity levels.”

He said in a statement:

“CBP’s facilities and manpower cannot support this dramatic increase in apprehensions of family units and unaccompanied children. USBP temporary holding facilities were simply not designed to process and care for a population of this size and of this demographic.”

M. Gonzalez, a Honduran who crossed the border with his teenage brother, explained it was easier traveling to the border via “The Beast,” a system of freight trains employed to ferry refugees through Mexico–infamous for the number of casualties and injuries it has caused passengers–than endure the conditions to which CBP subjected him.

He commented:

“It’s hell there. The bridge is one of the worst things I’ve ever experienced.”

Gonzalez, who spent about four days under the bridge, added:

“I regretted coming. I’m not sure I would’ve come if I had known.”

A Guatemalan woman named “Maria” detained under the bridge with her son said:

“I came here to work and get a better future for my family. I never thought I would go through this. We were hardly able to sleep, the earth was so hard, it was very tiring. There were so many young babies crying, a lot of the children were sick with coughing, diarrhea, eye infections.”

Like most, “Maria” and her son fled Guatemala because of rampant crime and unemployment, paying “coyotes”–guides–$8,000 obtained from family and placing a lien on her home.

Her son explained:

“We were hungry all the time. They gave me a cold baloney sandwich at four in the morning, and then another cold baloney sandwich at one p.m., and that was it.”

Rep. Veronica Escobar, who replaced Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke in Congress after he chose to seek Sen. Ted Cruz’s Senate seat instead of re-election, said:

“This administration has made a challenge into chaos because of the policies that they have chosen to enact. Having people corralled under a bridge out in the elements with half of them being children is absolutely inhumane and unacceptable and is not representative of who we are as a country and is not reflective of the kind of resources that Congress has given CBP and homeland security.”

This is not a simple issue to address, and no recent administration has had an easy time of it. However, we can start by investing in the infrastructure of the Central American countries most affected, namely Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Instead, the Trump administration on Saturday agreed to cut aid to those very countries, assuredly exacerbating an already worsening international crisis.

People are fleeing those places in droves because conditions are horrific, mostly due to American economic policies initiated decades ago under the Reagan administration.

We don’t have an illegal immigration problem.

We have an illegal employer problem.

We need to go return to the days we jailed wealthy, white employers who hired undocumented workers to circumvent workplace protections; i.e., unions.

We need a pathway to citizenship that is humane, just, and logical.

So-called “conservatives” call this “radical” when it is, in fact, by definition conservative.

Instead, what we’re practicing now is Libertarian–the actual open-border party.

This country has in its brief history committed genocide against its Indigenous people, run concentration camps on Southern plantations, interned Japanese-Americans, and enacted legislation keeping African Americans “separate but equal.”

But we are better than all that.

There is a reason these refugees wish to come here.

Despite all our flaws, we are still a nation committed to “E Pluribus Unum”–from many, one.

This current stain on our history, though, will blight us for generations to come.

We are better than this.

Image credit: Pixabay

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been in featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to Op-Ed News, Liberal Nation Rising, and Zoedune.