It has been a year since the immigrant detention camps at the U.S.-Mexico border hit the news, sparked by the inhumane family separation policy, and the idea of locking up children, with or without their parents, became normalized. Though these facilities don’t receive the same amount of media attention they did last year, don’t think the crisis has gotten better—it has gotten worse. NBC News reports 24 immigrants have died in ICE custody under the watch of the current administration, not including at least five children who died in the custody of other federal agencies.
The number of deaths is likely even higher, but we don’t know because ICE has stopped updating the list on their website.
These detention centers are not the luxury resorts or summer camps the White House would like you to believe they are. They are prisons for refugees—literal concentration camps. A May 2019 Office of the Inspector General report describes prolonged overcrowding conditions. A cell with a maximum capacity of 35 held 155 detainees during an OIG inspection and according to Border Control logs, these people were subjected to standing-room only conditions for weeks. On the flip side, thousands are being tortured by solitary confinement. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists states, “Records reviewed by ICIJ describe detainees in isolation mutilating their genitals, gouging their eyes, cutting their wrists and smearing their cells with feces.”
Children are especially susceptible to serious health complications as a result of being kept in custody in poor conditions for long periods of time. Teen Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vásquez died from the flu while in CBP custody, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, died of an infection while waiting to receive medical care, and 1-year-old Mariee Juarez died from a respiratory illness she allegedly developed while detained by ICE, to name only three.
Journalists are not often allowed to tour the premises of these facilities, but when they are they witness agents put mothers and children in a hielera, or “icebox,” a refrigerated building where they try to sleep on concrete floors under Mylar blankets while agents prod them awake and infrequently grant bathroom breaks, where food is scarce and sickness is not treated, where being moved to the perrera, or “doghouse,” is considered an improvement because it is warmer, all according to Martin Garbus of The Nation.
The New Yorker reports that Border Patrol agents, mad at children for having lice, took away their sleeping mats as punishment.
Sick to your stomach yet? Just wait ’til you hear that the Department of Justice defended in court its policy to not provide soap or toothpaste to migrant children being held. Even Somali pirates give hostages soap and toothpaste, according to former hostage Michael Scott Moore.
That didn’t do it? How about the February New York Times report that thousands of immigrant children allege sexual abuse in U.S. detention centers? “The [DOJ] records, which involve children who had entered the country alone or had been separated from their parents, detailed allegations that adult staff members had harassed and assaulted children, including fondling and kissing minors, watching them as they showered, and raping them. They also included cases of suspected abuse of children by other minors.”
Let’s not mince words. These detention camps are concentration camps [per Merriam-Webster: “a place where large numbers of people (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, refugees, or the members of an ethnic or religious minority) are detained or confined under armed guard”] and the United States government is in the not-so-early stages of committing genocide. The United Nations defines genocide as any act with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, including causing serious bodily or mental harm, and/or forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Not convinced? The White House has announced it will soon reopen Fort Sill, a former Japanese internment camp, to house apprehended minors. Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services admitted to losing track of 1,475 migrant children after they left shelters, leaving them vulnerable to human trafficking. AP has reported that holes in immigration laws have allowed migrant parents to be deported while their children are legally, permanently placed with American families through foster care or adoption.
Please understand that these migrants are seeking asylum through a legal process; they are not “illegals.” Also note that they are primarily fleeing the horrific gang violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador—areas the United States helped destabilize and continues to provide guns to, ever fueling the migration crisis.
Recognize that for-profit detention centers are cash cows for government contractors. Immigration detention is a multibillion-dollar industry because American taxpayers pay up $750 per child per day to contain them at certain facilities, according to Reuters. Do not forget that there are people in this country who are directly profiting from the imprisonment and suffering of others.
The trauma inflicted on these migrants will scar not only their bodies, but their psyches, forever. These atrocities are a stain on the soul of America and every American who chooses to look the other way.
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