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Dispatches from the US/Mexico border (June-September 2019)

In early June 2019, it was announced that the federal government would add three thousand new beds for migrant children. About half this number would be housed at a new facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas in a building that was previously used to house oil field workers. The rest would likely be housed at Army and Air Force bases in Georgia, Montana and Oklahoma. Per an Associated Press article:

"All the new facilities will be considered temporary emergency shelters, so they won’t be subject to state child welfare licensing requirements, [Office of Refugee Resettlement spokesman Mark] Weber said. In January, the government shut down an unlicensed detention camp in the Texas desert under political pressure, and another unlicensed facility called Homestead remains in operation in the Miami suburbs."

Elizabeth C. McLaughlin reported on Twitter that people who are detained at the border are first sent to a place called the "Dog Pound," where people are kept in outdoor cages with "no running water, no covers, no tarp, no care, no safety from the elements. It is freezing at night, and deathly hot during the day." They do not receive adequate nutrition, especially for small children. Then they are sent to "The Freezer," which is maintained at 55 degrees F (13 C) and has no beds, where they are kept for weeks. The government is supposed to send them to residential facilities, but those residential facilities are empty and ICE plans to close them. Instead, they are being sent to concentration camps run by the military, including the former Japanese-American internment camp Fort Sill, where lawyers, journalists, and human rights monitors will not be permitted. "The Trump administration will be able to conduct itself in whatever way it wants to without anyone knowing what's going on inside. Think about what that means. Think about why they would want that. This is happening RIGHT NOW," McLaughlin wrote.

Similarly, Bradford Pearson:

Pearson points us to the organization Densho, which has more information about Fort Sill.

Jonathan M. Katz's article "Call immigrant detention centers what they really are: concentration camps" in the LA Times (9 June 2019) made these points:

"Certainly it helps that the news media covers these horrors intermittently rather than as snowballing proof of a racist, lawless administration.

* * *

A year ago, Americans accidentally became aware that the Trump administration had adopted (and lied about) a policy of ripping families apart at the border. The flurry of attention was thanks to the viral conflation of two separate but related stories: the family-separation order and bureaucrats’ admission that they’d been unable to locate thousands of migrant children who’d been placed with sponsors after crossing the border alone.

* * *

It is important to note that Trump’s aides have built this system of racist terror on something that has existed for a long time. Several camps opened under Obama, and as president he deported millions of people.

But Trump’s game is different. It certainly isn’t about negotiating immigration reform with Congress. Trump has made it clear that he wants to stifle all non-white immigration, period. His mass arrests, iceboxes and dog cages are part of an explicitly nationalist project to put the country under the control of the right kind of white people.

After an emergency Caesarean section in Mexico, a 17-year-old Guatemalan girl crossed the border into the US on June 4, 2019 with her premature baby. Immigration legal advocates found her a week later at the McAllen facility, in pain and in a wheelchair, with the baby—its head smaller than an adult's fist—in poor health condition with only the onesie it was wearing. After attention on social media, it was announced that mother and daughter were to be transferred to a more appropriate facility for minors.

Others have died. However:

(And the list would anyway not have included deaths that occurred shortly after an injured or sick person was released from custody.)

Rabbi Ruttenberg wrote in the Washington Post:

But it is important to note that Nazi concentration camps — which, in Germany, began in 1933 — and the Holocaust’s death (or “extermination”) camps, which began in 1941, are not the same thing, though they’re often conflated in American discourse. And what we now know of the CBP camps does not include many of the hallmarks often associated with Nazi camps — forced labor, for example, or the detention of U.S. citizens. But it’s also true that the earliest camps — known as “wild camps” — were makeshift centers that did not have the infrastructure of later state camps. Concentration camps have a history beyond just the Nazis, too. Pitzer’s definition also puts CBP centers in the context of other such camps in France, South Africa, Cuba, the Soviet Union and, of course, here in the United States during World War II, targeting Japanese Americans. (Those who quibble that “internment camps” are not “concentration camps” might note that both President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harold Ickes, his secretary of the interior, referred to U.S. camps as the latter.)

A photo taken illegally in federal court shows 37 immigrants in orange prison jumpsuits being processed simultaneously. Such processes have been in place for a decade but are more frequent under Trump.

It's happening for reasons including this:

Since the resignation of Kirstjen Nielsen in April 2019, there has only been an acting Secretary of Homeland Security, not a permanent one. Might that not reduce stability and accountability?

Some have contact information for relatives and no one is bothering to make the phone calls.

Not that it should matter, but human rights abuses are expensive.

Some companies are turning a profit.

Some people are determined not to care. "Quit trying to make us feel teary-eyed for the children. Yes, I love children a great deal, but to me, it's up to the parents to do things rightfully and legally," a Trump supporter says at a diner in Mesa, Arizona.

A government report on Sept. 4 found that children who were separated from their families at the border last year have, unsurprisingly, suffered PTSD.

In early July, the Trump administration denied reports of inadequate hygiene.

A look inside a detention center (8 June 2019, New York Times and El Paso Times)

Never Again Action, a Jewish activist group, is protesting at ICE centers. (13 July 2019, Times of Israel)

On August 13, acting USCIS director Ken Cuccinelli said on television that the poem on the Statue of Liberty should read: "Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge." (In other words, that immigrants are welcome as long as they are able to work and will not require assistance from the government.) Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright — herself once a refugee from the Nazis and an immigrant to the United States, now 82 years old — said that Cuccinelli's comment was "one of the most un-American things I have ever heard." On August 14, BuzzFeed News immigration reporter Hamed Aleaziz complained that Cuccinelli, who assumed his position only two months previously, has since "pushed asylum officers to stop allowing some people seeking refuge in the country passage at an initial screening at the border...sped up initial screenings of immigrants seeking asylum, a move that advocates say will give immigrants less time to prepare for their interviews or recover from dangerous journeys...ended a policy that allows Filipino veterans of World War II to bring family members to the United States before their green cards are available...asked USCIS staffers to volunteer for ICE jobs...[and] rolled out the public charge rule." Cucinelli responded on Twitter: “Thx Hamed. The best is yet to come!” In response to which, Eli Valley: “Whoever’s compiling shit in The Hague, save this one.”

On August 21, 2019, the Trump administration announced a new policy allowing detained migrant families to be "kept indefinitely, until their cases are decided." The policy implies "an expectation that cases be resolved comparatively quickly — within around two months." The policy will take effect in two months. The Trump administration only a week ago "announced steps to limit legal migration, including a declaration that by seeking government benefits, migrants would jeopardize their chances of becoming permanent residents."

If those rules "are allowed to stand, we will have entered a new era," wrote Sasha Abramsky, as the change "will take away state licensing authority over family detention facilities and hand that power over to ICE. At the same time, it will remove the ability of designated lawyers, who have a mandate under Flores to monitor the conditions children are kept in, to even set foot in the detention centers."

In September, an ICE officer in Tennessee opened fire on an undocumented immigrant who fled their attempt to take him into custody.

In August, a forty-year-old man deported from the US to Iraq (despite having been born in Greece and never having been to Iraq) died in Iraq, probably due to a lack of diabetes medication, as his lawyers had argued would likely happen, but the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed ICE to continue with deportations. Many immigrants to the US could face similar fates if they are deported to Iraq or elsewhere. One example is a 16-year-old with cystic fibrosis whose story was featured in the New York Times on September 9. He received a letter telling him that his medical excuse for being in the country was provided, and then he'd have to leave.

On September 11, the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to limit asylum claims by Central American migrants. The Trump administration can now deny asylum claims from people who passed through another country (usually Mexico) before arriving in the US, since they didn't "request protection at the first opportunity" (i.e. they didn't claim asylum in Mexico). The rule is still being appealed in lower courts, but the Supreme Court is allowing the Trump administration to behave as it wishes until the results of the legal appeals come in.

The National Park Service believes (according to an internal report obtained by the press in September 2019) that 22 archaeological sites inside Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, containing the history of the peoples of the Sonoran Desert, are threatened by the construction of the border barrier. Noting that archaeology cannot be performed on the government's schedule, a senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association said, "This is just one more reason why ramming this wall through, using illegal, unconstitutional money, is damaging to these public resources. We're destroying what the wall is supposed to protect."

“We’re building a wall in Colorado," Trump said at a rally in Pennsylvania on October 23, 2019. “Well this is awkward ... Colorado doesn’t border Mexico,” Colorado's governor, Jared Polis, tweeted.

At the White House Halloween party in 2019, a game was designed for children to "build the wall."

In 2018, ICE was luring foreign-born students to a fake university and then arresting and deporting them. (The fake school was shut down in January 2019 by other authorities.)

In September 2020:

In October 2020, the New York Times revealed more about the origins of family separation: article


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