How will you answer these big questions on border enforcement and immigration?
Opinion: We are facing a moral crisis when children die in government custody and humanitarian workers are prosecuted for trying to save lives.
The ongoing national tragedy along the U.S.-Mexican border has an ugly new dimension with the death of a second migrant child in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
This long-running border saga also includes a bizarre sub-plot as Uncle Sam tries to bring his mighty fist down on the head of a humanitarian worker for trying to save lives along the border.
Woven into this story are the great moral questions of our time:
- Do you support deadly U.S. policies?
- Should a nation of immigrants treat would-be immigrants as the enemy?
- How can a country that respects human rights treat humans with such callousness?
- Why does a country with a growing Latino population tolerate official government hostility toward people from Latin America?
- When do we stop handing political power to opportunists who milk this issue for personal gain?
Why this matters to you
U.S. Customs and Border Protection ordered medical checks on every child in its custody Tuesday after an 8-year-old boy from Guatemala died in New Mexico, marking the second death of an immigrant child in the agency's care this month. (Dec. 26)
You are wrong if you think this doesn’t have anything to do with you or the joyous celebrations you may have been having on Christmas Eve, when an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy died in U.S. custody. Felipe Gómez Alonzo was the second Guatemalan child to die in U.S. custody in December.
Thousands have died before him under different circumstances. Since January 2001, more than 2,100 undocumented migrants died crossing Arizona’s southern border, according to the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner.
The lack of outcry over these deaths represents a coarsening of America's attitude toward the humanity of men, women and children who want to make their lives better. The arguments used to justify that harshness are divisive and ugly.
If those arguments send our better angels fleeing to the hills, we could be left with only the bitterness.
Fringe ideas are mainstream now
It was decades ago when I first heard from apologists who insisted the migrants who died horrible deaths in the heat of our southern deserts deserved to die. Why? Because of the minor crime of crossing the border illegally.
“They shouldn’t have been there,” has been a common and recurring refrain.
It sounded like a voice from Fringe City back in the early 2000s. So cruel. So out-of-touch. So un-American.
Now that viewpoint is defended at the highest levels of U.S. government.
The propagandist-in-chief rode to the White House on the lie that desperate men, women and children represent a mortal danger to our way of life.
Consider the official Trump administration line after 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin died in U.S. custody Dec. 8. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said: “This family chose to cross illegally.”
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley reiterated the point to reporters: "Does the administration take responsibility for a parent taking a child on a trek through Mexico to get to this country? No."
U.S. policies lead to death
Yet death is the byproduct of U.S. policies ostensibly meant to discourage illegal immigration.
Thousands perished after the United States implemented strategies designed during the Clinton administration to make crossing the border harder and more dangerous.
In the name of deterrence, Obama put Central American kids in cages.
Trump’s wall is a continuation of treating a humanitarian crisis like a law enforcement issue. He’s so eager to pour more money down the border enforcement rathole that he forced a partial shutdown of your government.
He put the ongoing process of militarizing the border on steroids, while insulting people who dare to hope America has a heart.
Our treatment of migrants has included putting them in detention cells that are kept notoriously cold, separating children from their families, tear-gassing families attempting to cross the border.
Why enforcement fails
Clergy and humanitarian aid volunteers risked prosecution by dropping off water for migrants at the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. Arizona Republic
Yet the continued trek of desperate people toward our border shows how badly those law enforcement strategies have failed. This is a human problem, not a law enforcement problem.
This is about jobs, families, hope. This is about fleeing danger and corruption. This is not about criminals, it’s about men, women and children seeking the light of liberty’s torch.
Meanwhile, Congress has done nothing to create an orderly system for workers to reach waiting jobs in this country. Or to acknowledge conditions in Central American countries that are so treacherous parents walk thousands of miles with children just to get away.
Some Americans do what they can. Churches take in migrants. Advocacy groups offer legal help. Humanitarian groups put water in the desert to save lives. They offer food and medical aid.
Prosecuting a volunteer who helped
Last January, one of those groups – No More Deaths/No Más Muertes – put out a report detailing how Border Patrol agents vandalized supplies the group left in the desert for migrants. It included a video of Border Patrol agents kicking over water bottles and pouring out water.
Within hours of the report’s release, No More Deaths volunteer Scott Daniel Warren was arrested and charged with illegally harboring migrants. He is scheduled to stand trial Jan. 14.
His “crime” was offering aid to people in need.
So think about those big questions. This is about you, too. This is about what kind of country you want to hand off to your kids and grandkids.
Reach Valdez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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