Since the release some days ago of the video that revealed the moments of agony that the Guatemalan teenager Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vásquez suffered in total helplessness in a Border Patrol detention center in Texas, last May, the significance of the cruelty of the immigration policy of the present U.S. administration has become much clearer. Especially how it affects children.
It was no secret that the behavior of authorities inside detention centers for migrants of any age has been that of negligence, neglect, indifference, cruelty, and violence, as a series of investigations, journalists, and human rights organizations unveiled.
Still fresh in the memory is the series of problems detected by the Office of the Inspector General of the very same Department of Homeland Security, which highlighted the “dangerous overcrowding” and “prolonged detentions,” on top of revelations in letters written by the detained migrant children themselves, in which they denounced the fact that they were not allowed to bathe regularly, the food they were given was horrible and in many cases rotten, and they were not given the tools of basic hygiene, such as a toothbrush and toothpaste, or even soap to wash themselves.
All this in addition to the harassment of which some children complained and reported at the time, such as physical and sexual abuse, not to mention the excessive amount of time that immigration authorities required them to remain literally caged, violating the Flores settlement agreement, and in what they called “ice boxes,” whose cold temperatures were surely unbearable, the very same which caused outbreaks of preventable illnesses, like the flu, complicated further by the paltry, non-existent, or indifferent medical care.
And all this as a result of the policy of separating families that came to ask for asylum at the border, a policy that kept fathers and mothers separated from their children for an eternity, without knowing where they were, in a country that they did not know, but in which they had placed their hopes of being protected after leaving their countries of origin plagued by violence and poverty.
The impact, of course, would have been even more devastating if the government had gone ahead with its plan of separating more than 26,000 families, something that recently came to light, an act that was also part of its “zero tolerance” policy, that gross and cruel strategy to deter other poor migrants in the future from coming illegally to this country in search of an opportunity to live.
In fact, the aberrant policy of making more than 55,000 asylum-seekers wait in Mexico, not on U.S. soil, exposed to another type of danger through the presence of organized crime, is also part of the anti-immigrant and xenophobic essence that emanates from the current occupants of the White House, including presidential adviser Stephen Miller and the leader of the United States himself.
Those prolonged separations were also a form of psychological torture, for parents as well as children and teenagers, which mental health professionals have said is even more damaging in the long-term than everything else that came before, to this generation of migrants that thought the United States still represented a chance for survival.
It was a psychological sucker punch that will be difficult to overcome, above all for those who were already deported, and especially for the families of those seven migrant children who died in custody of U.S. authorities.
Because the meaning of life and short and long-term plans will not be the same for the parents of Mariee Juárez, Jakelin Caal, Felipe Gómez Alonso, Darlyn Cristabel Córdova Valle, Juan de León Gutiérrez, Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vásquez, and Carlos Gregorio Hernández, as they represent, in many ways, the seed of their own hope: as families, as parents, as human beings who, like millions throughout human history, have done exactly the same to overcome obstacles that they had to overcome—the ignominy of precariousness for generations and generations of displaced people throughout the planet, “the wretched of the Earth.”
This terrible picture described, grosso modo, in the previous paragraphs now finds its home in the gallery of crimes against humanity and, to this moment, their very own perpetrators have not realized the extent of the damage done, perhaps for lack of awareness or excess of cynicism.
Because the Statute of the International Criminal Court has it perfectly defined, saying that a crime against humanity “is understood to be different types of grave inhumane acts that meet two requirements: are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, and with knowledge of said attack.”
To that they add that if the inhumane acts are committed in a systematic way, “this means that they are committed as part of a plan or preconceived policy, excluding random acts. Such plan or policy could be directed by governments or any other organization or group.”
They also underline, on the other hand, the inhumane acts prohibited by this Statute: “Deportation or forcible transfer of population; displacement of persons from the zone they are legitimately present in through expulsion and other coercive acts, unless authorized by international law; incarceration or another grave deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental international norms; other inhumane acts of a similar nature that intentionally cause huge suffering or grave consequences on physical and emotional wellbeing.”
Every president, at bottom, is defined by the way he handles the topic of immigration and, by extension, immigrants. Trump’s way, of course, will be defined in the pages of history by its cruelty, not for his adherence to the law or the border security that he so often heralds, especially in election times in order to measure his degree of influence over an important segment of the U.S. population.
Meanwhile, it’s worth never forgetting that when these seven little Central American children died in federal custody, without a doubt we too died a little, with each one of them.
To read the Spanish-language version of this article click here.