Migrating to the US by way of its southern border isn’t a new phenomenon. However, under Trump’s administration, there has been an increased crackdown on migrants leading to a humanitarian crisis the Government has continued to dismiss.
In May alone, Border police apprehended around 132,887 migrants – the highest recorded number in 13 years. Most of the people arriving at the border are coming as families with children. After migrants are processed, they should be administered in a facility run by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) with a guarantee of release in three days maximum. Adults and children who arrive with parents or guardians are then dispatched to facilities run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) until a hearing is held. While unaccompanied children are cared for by the Department of Health and Human Services. However, a closer look into Border control operations paint a completely different reality.
A recent report from the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General’s found that children were kept in overcrowded conditions for sometimes longer than three days. They were not provided with showers, fresh clothing or hot food, while adults were kept in standing-only rooms for as long as week. A doctor who visited one of the facilities in Texas reported that children were not given toothpaste and were kept in freezing rooms, comparing it to ‘torture facilities’.
Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez has been particularly outspoken about the crisis at the border, likening the detention centers to concentration camps. During a recent visit she reported that migrants were being told to drink from the toilet and were not being provided running water. She highlighted that this was CBP officers on their ‘best behavior’ knowing that there would be a congressional visit.
In May 2019, an average of 4600 migrants were arriving at the border every day. Compared to the same period in 2017, less than 700 people were making the treacherous journey to the border. What’s changed? A lot of migrants are travelling from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, most of them are escaping poverty, violence or widespread instability. What’s worse is that many families are risking danger or death to reach the U.S. and seek asylum only to be captured by Border patrol and left in unfathomable conditions. For many, leaving their homes is a matter of survival and that sentiment has only intensified in recent years.
While the Trump Administration are purposely reducing the number of asylum cases heard, contributing to a backlog of thousands of cases. With fewer cases heard, migrants are taking even larger risks to enter the U.S. In one egregious photo that went viral, a father and his young daughter were found drowned after trying to cross the Rio Grande river. Not only are people dying to get across the border but they’re also dying when they get to the other side.
But what makes all this worse is an incomprehensible policy that was implemented in 2018 – the family separation policy. This course of action was implemented as a ‘zero tolerance policy’ that would deter families trying to cross the border. Children were being separated by their families without proper documentation or plans to follow up with their case. Although the policy has now been abandoned, many families have still not been reunited with their children and reports show that family separation is still happening.
What is being done?
Recently, the Republican-led Senate passed a $4.6 billion bill that will send emergency humanitarian spending to the southern border. However, the Democratic-led House drew up a similar legislation with amendments that would minimize the length of detention for children and other vital migrant protections. The clash between the two legislations were not reconciled and the House was forced to accept the Senate’s bill.
Hopefully this bill will alleviate some of the problems faced by the families, but the bigger problem still needs to be addressed. Attitudes towards migrancy and borders needs to evolve and adapt, and as a country built by immigrants – the United States should understand the need to find somewhere safe to call home.