Jul 21, 2019
by Gary Pace M.D.
by Garyn Pace
Last month, the first part of this article outlined the recent experience. my wife and I had working with migrants in El Paso. The discussion of the immense scale of the problem, with 100,000 people a month being apprehended at the Southern border, and the desperation of the people coming into this country due to extreme poverty and violence in their homelands continues to be relevant.
A lot has changed in the last month, though. The president has altered the laws so that Central Americans can be deported back to Mexico. The horrible conditions of the detention facilities, especially for children, have been exposed by journalists.
1) Our government’s response is inadequate to the immigration crisis. It now appears that the government’s major strategy is deterrence. The Border Patrol has tried forcefully separating children from their families, building walls, increasing security, and making detention extremely unpleasant (bordering on torture). These approaches make many US citizens concerned about these extreme measures that are inhumane.
While there, we saw only families, so we had no contact with unaccompanied minors. The conditions in detention that people reported to us included:
● Extended stays in ICE detention, up to two weeks.
● Confiscation of possessions and documents (including medication).
● Often confined in “hieleras,” or iceboxes, kept cold and uncomfortable. Sometimes they went into the “perreras,” or dog pens—small caged areas.
● Some cells were so crowded that they couldn’t sit or lie down—several people claimed they were packed so tight that it was impossible to sit for over 48 hours.
● Shortages of food and water.
Our time was spent at Annunciation House, a volunteer organization that is helping refugees as they are released from custody and dropped on the streets. They were usually pretty bedraggled and with absolutely no resources. The work at the safe house was mainly logistics—getting a shower, food, a bed, clean clothes, medical care, and making contact with their sponsors (usually family). These sponsors are scattered around the country and buy bus or plane tickets to get them to their new home. This work in the shelters was done by volunteers, many were college students on break, with little funding and in very chaotic circumstances.
Where a month ago, the border patrol was releasing people into the US, our government is trying to “out-source” the problem to Mexico. They are beginning to dump the people back over the border to towns like Juarez and Tijuana—dangerous border towns without the resources to cope. Very likely, there will be bad outcomes for many of the young people that have been crossing recently. Some volunteer organizations are working on the Mexican side, but I suspect that they will soon be overwhelmed.
So, we left with a lot of respect for the people on the border dealing with this huge influx of humanity. Previously, we spent some time with the Syrian refugees in Greece, and this wave of migrants seems very similar. Like in Greece, the government and the international community are not addressing the need in any reasonable way, leaving it to the volunteer efforts of churches and other humanitarians. Major shifts in the politics of Europe have resulted from the immigrant influx.
Are we prepared to absorb 1000 people a day, indefinitely? If so, then we should come up with a better way to let them in. If not, we have not yet figured out an effective way to prevent them from making the trip.
Leaving a loophole that forces people to bring their children in order to prevent immediate deportation is a setup for the types of tragedies like the deaths of several children in custody so far this year. Yet forcing Mexico to deal with the problem doesn’t seem very humane or effective. Europe has pushed the problem of their refugees to Turkey and Africa, and a few weeks ago, we saw an attack on a migrant camp in Libya that led to several deaths. Can our leaders come together and have productive discussions on how to deal in an effective and humane way with this situation?
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