As we approach the season of giving, of families gathering and of holiday lights, we should take a moment to reflect upon the plight of the immigrants. We should think of those desperate people whose families have been separated and from whom the light of hope has been snatched away. We should think of the onslaught of policies that have been enacted by this administration that target asylum seekers at the southern border and our immigrant neighbors and friends.
From placing the futures of DACA and TPS holders in jeopardy to threatening our most vulnerable immigrants by proposing changes to public charge, immigrants have been under attack by this administration. At the heart of all of these attacks is the underlying threat of deportation and family separation.
We have seen the cruel and inhumane treatment of asylum seekers in detention centers with the denial of their basic humanitarian needs. Seven children have died in U.S. custody over the past year alone while previously no child had died in detention in over a decade. Three of these children died from complications of the flu, yet Customs and Border Patrol(CBP) still refuses to administer flu vaccine to children and families in their custody despite CDC recommendations.
The most cruel and hateful of policies was zero tolerance. The separation and traumatization of what we now know was over 5,000 children at the southern border, including infants and toddlers – that was a crime against humanity, a crime for which we must continue to demand accountability, particularly for those children who will never be reunited with their parents.
Today we hear less and less about immigrants in detention, in part because we are simply not letting them in. At a time when there is a world refugee crisis with the number of displaced individuals at its highest level since World War II, this administration has seen fit to drastically cut the number of refugees we take in to 18,000 per year. This is a number far lower than the 75,000 that the UN estimates would meet our obligation and far lower still than the 110,000 refugees admitted yearly during the Obama administration.
The administration has now created what is widely known as the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy. It’s official name is MPP or ‘Migrant Protection Protocols’ but it is anything but protective. Refugees seeking asylum in the US including young children and families escaping violence and threats to their lives, are being sent to Mexico to await asylum hearings which can take months or even years. To date nearly 60,000 individuals have been sent to Mexico where they have no access to work or healthcare. Some migrants have been piled into buses by the Mexican government and taken 1,000 miles south of the US border, close to the very countries they are trying to escape.
Makeshift shelters are full and families are forced to sleep on the streets in cities known to be among the most dangerous in the world. According to a human rights report, since MPP was put into place, there have been over 600 documented cases of rape, kidnapping, torture and other violent attacks on these vulnerable asylum seekers. Families including infants and young children sit waiting outside our country’s borders, exposed to the elements, sick, hungry and afraid.
Migrants forced to wait in Mexico are much less likely to find lawyers to represent them and even if they do, the logistics of making it back to court are forcing immigrants to run circles of despair and confusion. Migrants who do not make it back to the U.S. on time for their hearings receive deportation orders. As of September, judges have granted asylum in just 11 cases, or 0.1% of the time. MPP was claimed to have been conceived as a way to streamline or improve the immigration process. Instead, it has served as a means of effectively banning asylum seekers from entering the the U.S.
So we’re sorry, world, but we’re closed. This may be the time of year when we traditionally think of those less fortunate. But we are in the throes of an administration that insists on betraying our fundamental American values of being a light of hope and opportunity to the downtrodden seeking refuge within our borders . We have a government that is not only turning a blind eye to the suffering of asylum seekers, but is compounding their suffering.
We are a nation of immigrants. We must continue to raise our voices in opposition to these cruel and heartless policies that defy morality and defy what America claims to represent to the world. In this season of giving, let us strive to push our leaders to once again be a nation that opens its heart and its doors to the immigrants that have made this country great.