A Visit to the Border

I’m a long way from the Mexican border. But like many others, I can’t tear my eyes away from it, via  the media. Many journalists are doing fine work this week, bringing the rending of families there into sharp focus. Here’s a sampling; hope the images and text make some impact.

From the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger, an immigration lawyer  recounted her border visit a few days ago:

Amelia McGowan, program director and immigration attorney at Migrants Support Center though Catholic Charities in Jackson:

Conversing in Spanish to many of the people seeking asylum, McGowan discovered they had heard rumors about U.S. officials separating children from their parents. And yet they stayed. At the time, the news was not widely reported.

“It seemed like this was a choice they had to make, they had no other choice — for their own survival and for their children’s survival,” McGowan said. 

Many of those seeking asylum have traveled for days, seeking legal refuge from abuse or gang violence. With the Monday announcement from Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the U.S. would no longer provide asylum to victims of domestic abuse or gang violence, the refuge they seek will likely not be found in the U.S. 

Many are being turned away at the border and told to come back another day. Under a new “zero tolerance” policy, the ones who cross the border without papers or authorization are immediately separated from their children, charged with a misdemeanor crime and sent to detention centers before their deportation hearing. They face up to six months in prison. 

Where are the children?

For many of the men detained, they face a mass-production form of “justice” in the nearby federal court. From the New York Times:

TUCSON, Ariz. — They filed into the room seven by seven for a dose of rapid-fire justice: In less than a minute and in quick succession, each migrant pleaded guilty to illegally entering the United States, and was sentenced.

They were overwhelmingly Central American and Mexican men, many of them still in the dusty, sweaty garb they had been wearing when they were caught by Border Patrol agents. They looked dazed, tired and resigned to their fate, many having just completed a harsh trek across the sweltering Mexican desert. Some of their heads drooped as they listened to the judge.

“Good afternoon, my name is Bernardo Velasco, the judge assigned to conduct this proceeding. You are being represented by a lawyer at no cost to you because you are charged with the criminal offense of illegal entry,” the judge told the defendants.

Then he turned to the lawyers: “Counsels, have your clients made a decision to waive their right to a trial and enter guilty pleas?” The lawyers responded in unison, “Yes, your honor.” . . .

There have been many photos of children in detention. The shell of a closed Wal-Mart is among the most notorious. A local TV station had an extensive report:

“. . . as of Wednesday, ORR [federal  Office of Refugee Resettlement] spokesman Brian Marriott said, the office was holding 11,351 children in more than 100 shelters across 17 states.

At the Casa Padre shelter, which opened last year, the surge in numbers has been palpable. In March, the nonprofit Southwest Key Programs, which also operates 26 other shelters in Texas, Arizona and California, had a capacity of 1,186, according to a licensing document posted in the shelter. More recently, as children flooded into the system, they had to get a variance from Texas regulators to boost its capacity temporarily to 1,497. The average population of the shelter has jumped by nearly 300 in less than a month, said Martin Hinojosa, director of compliance for Southwest Key Programs.

Today, the shelter is almost at capacity again. Five cot-like beds have been squeezed into bedrooms built originally for four.

Juan Sanchez, the founder and president of Southwest Key Programs, refused to discuss the “zero-tolerance” policy.

“Our goal is to reunite these children with their families as soon as we can do that,” he told reporters Wednesday. He said that more than 70% of the 5,129 children at Southwest Key Programs shelters were unaccompanied, rather than separated from their parents. However, he conceded that the number of children separated was rising.

Reporters allowed to visit the Casa Padre shelter had to agree to preconditions, including that no cameras, phones or recording devices were allowed. Officials also declined to allow interviews with children or employees of the shelter.

The massive shelter retains a warehouse vibe — noisy but highly organized, with scores of staffers leading skeins of boys to various activities. In recreation rooms, some boys watched a soccer match on TV; some took part in a tai chi class; others played pool or foosball (in one case with a cue ball). Still others sat in classrooms. Because of the crowding, the boys attend school in six-hour morning or afternoon shifts, five days a week. The bedrooms reporters were shown seemed antiseptically clean.”

MSNBC corresponding Jacob Soboroff, who visited the facility, tweeted; 

I have been inside a federal prison and county jails. This place is called a shelter but these kids are incarcerated. No cells and no cages, and they get to go to classes about American history and watch Moana, but they’re in custody.

Photo from the Houston Chronicle

However, plans have since been announced that more child detainees will be herded into tent camps — in daytime temperatures that are typically 100+ degrees.

Audio of separated children wailing for their parents, recorded clandestinely and released by ProPublica,  has been released. It’s here: 

Propublica: “The desperate sobbing of 10 Central American children, separated from their parents one day last week by immigration authorities at the border, makes for excruciating listening. Many of them sound like they’re crying so hard, they can barely breathe. They scream “Mami” and “Papá” over and over again, as if those are the only words they know.

The baritone voice of a Border Patrol agent booms above the crying. “Well, we have an orchestra here,” he jokes. “What’s missing is a conductor.”

Then a distraught but determined 6-year-old Salvadoran girl pleads repeatedly for someone to call her aunt. Just one call, she begs anyone who will listen. She says she’s memorized the phone number, and at one point, rattles it off to a consular representative. “My mommy says that I’ll go with my aunt,” she whimpers, “and that she’ll come to pick me up there as quickly as possible.”

[This] audio recording obtained by ProPublica adds real-life sounds of suffering to a contentious policy debate that has so far been short on input from those with the most at stake: immigrant children. More than 2,300 of them have been separated from their parents since April, when the Trump administration launched its “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which calls for prosecuting all people who attempt to illegally enter the country and taking away the children they brought with them. More than 100 of those children are under the age of 4. The children are initially held in warehouses, tents or big box stores that have been converted into Border Patrol detention facilities. . . .”

The audio was played by a reporter during a White House press briefing, while Secretary of Homeland Security  Kirstjen Nielsen was defending the policy.  Nielsen did not respond to it.

DHS Secretary Nielsen, at left. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders at right.

Events are moving so fast that these snippets may be obsolete by now.  And there were lots more today, but this is enough for one post.

Well, maybe one more comment right be relevant:

3 thoughts on “A Visit to the Border”

  1. Thank you Chuck. I had seen most of this, but it’s good to have it all in one place to share with others. And also from you, a reliable source.

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