OPINION: Sierra & Tierra: Decency Is in a Cage

It’s hard to comprehend the lack of moral values of the architects and enforcers of the zero tolerance immigration policy, which has ignited yet another national scandal.

On July 1st, a group of representatives visited Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) detention centers in Texas, after the atrocious conditions under which women and children are being detained were revealed. Their testimonies afterward speak of almost medieval conditions in the detention centers.

“Officers were keeping women in cells with no water and had told them to drink out of toilets,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “One of them described their treatment at the hands of officers as ‘psychological warfare’.”

Rep. Madeleine Dean declared that, “Conditions are far worse than we ever could have imagined. Fifteen women in their 50s-60s sleeping in a small concrete cell, no running water, weeks without showers, all of them separated from their families.”

The scandal had exploded following the testimonies of attorneys who had previously visited the same detention centers in Texas, including the one in Clint.

“In my 12 years of doing this work (…) I have never seen conditions as degrading and inhumane as what I saw in Clint,” Elora Mukherjee, director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, told Jezebel.com. “Many children haven’t bathed for days as they crossed the border. There is a stench that emanates from them.”

Mukherjee also observed that almost all children are sick, dirty with their own urine and vomit, and hungry or not getting enough food.

“They’re supposed to be playing, but they can’t play because they need to conserve their energy. It is so, so heartbreaking,” adds Mukherjee, speaking about a detention system under which six immigrant children have died since September.

It’s not only children. The recently released pictures taken inside the detention centers prove that decency is also in a cage.

A day before the representatives’ visit, ProPublica revealed the existence of a secret Facebook page including 9,500 CBP agents. The posts about the upcoming visit include insults such as “wh*re” and “b*tch.” Others feature denigrating memes about the legislators. Others mock the death of one of the children.

Javier Sierra/Sierra Club

Daniel Martínez, an expert on border issues at the University of Arizona in Tucson, opinedthat the posts reflect what “seems to be a pervasive culture of cruelty aimed at immigrants within CBP.”

A couple of weeks ago, before a panel of flabbergasted judges, Department of Justice attorney Sarah Fabian alleged that soap and toothbrushes might not fall under the law requiring “safe and sanitary” conditions at the detention centers.

Fortunately, the rule of law holds firm. A federal court blocked the Trump administration from accessing $2.5 billion in military funds for the border wall. It ruled that the Trump administration’s attempt to transfer funds for a border wall Congress denied is unlawful.

The ruling came as part of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition challenging the president’s abuse of emergency powers. Trump almost immediately appealed.

In the middle of this atmosphere of both immorality and impunity, we all should support a border vision based on human decency and solidarity, including the following:

·       Upholding the inalienable human rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

·       Recognizing the dignity and humanity of immigrants.

·       Honoring the principle of non-discrimination.

·       Partnering with border communities in decision-making about the border.

Some day, the government will respect these principles. Meantime, save the receipts of all you are witnessing for when the time comes to liberate decency.

by Javier Sierra
The Sierra Club

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed hereby are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Yucatán Times.