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The tragic and preventable death of an innocent seven-year old girl should not be seen as a mistake made in an otherwise humane system, but rather a deliberately cruel and dehumanizing system that has produced yet another death.
The CBP holding centers, known colloquially as “hieleras” (iceboxes) are wretched places. Freezing temperatures, no beds, lights left on, no showers, not enough toilets or toilet paper, filthy conditions, horrible smell, inedible food and not enough clean water to drink, and run by insulting and abusive agents. Front line workers report that most of those released from these CBP facilities are dazed, sick and hungry. (See here and here and here and here for starters).
For years, CBP has been faced with the arrival of Central Americans seeking asylum. For years, CBP has been confronted with reports and litigation regarding the inhumane conditions. And for years, CBP and DHS have done nothing but perpetuate conditions so dehumanizing that if they were visited upon Americans in a foreign country we would denounce the treatment as torture.
This is part and parcel of DHS’s determined effort to deter those who knock on our door in search of refuge. The Trump-Miller-Nielsen strategy has many components: tell those who want asylum to request it at ports of entry while making it nearly impossible to request asylum at ports of entry; prosecute those who present themselves to Border Patrol agents between ports of entry for “illegal entry;” separate families in numbers large (now halted by a federal judge) and small (under the flimsy pretext of protecting children from “criminal family members”); detain as long as possible those who seek asylum; lock up minors who arrive unaccompanied minors and scare away their U.S.-residing parents and relatives who want to sponsor them by threatening to arrest and detain those who come forward; and gut asylum standards by unilaterally changing the bases for deciding cases, pressuring trained Asylum Officers to reduce their high rates of deeming Central Americans as having a credible fear of return, and bullying Immigration Judges to deny cases when finally adjudicated.
The death of a seven year-old girl due to lack of water and food took place in this context. It is the predictable result of a DHS system aimed at denying and dehumanizing refugees and migrants who throw themselves on the mercy of a nation that once offered safe haven to those fleeing violence.
Will this be the death that leads to a thorough investigation and some genuine accountability?