When you hear the phrase, “detention camps,” what’s the first word that comes to mind?
Evil? Unjust? Inhumane?
You might be surprised to hear that detention camps exist in the United States.
Two such facilities currently exist in a pair of Texas towns, housing immigrant refugees from Central American countries.
Immigration is a hotbed issue in the United States today. Arguments ring the halls of Congress and city halls all across America about an important issue that affects us all.
We tend to think of immigration as a numbers game. We see the statistics regarding the number of immigrants who flow into the U.S. each year and we make judgments. Many ask questions such as, ‘Why don’t they stay in their own countries?’ and throw out statements such as, ‘They hurt our economy and take our jobs.’
Rarely is immigration inspected on a personal level. The New York Times investigated this angle in a fascinating piece entitled, “The Shame of America’s Family Detention Camps,” written by Wil S. Hylton on Feb. 4, 2015.
The author focuses on the works of pro bono lawyers looking to help the large number of immigrants being detained in the United States. These immigrants are mothers and their children who willingly surrendered to American authorities at the U.S.-Mexico border, hoping to be granted asylum. They are families “coming not just for the opportunity, but for survival,” hoping to escape increasing violence, especially by gangs.
The common misconception is that most immigrants currently come from Mexico. Not true. According to recent statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, more immigrants are now coming to the U.S. from Central American countries such as Honduras and El Salvador than from Mexico.
Not all immigrants enter the country legally, but the article focuses on those who do. The system in place for these refugees, who are looking to lawfully apply for asylum in the U.S., is broken.
One pro bono lawyer attempting to help these families, Vanessa Sischo, described a now-closed facility used to house these refugees in Artesia, New Mexico: “I remember the first time I went in. I just stopped, and all I could hear was a symphony of coughing and sneezing and crying and wailing.”
The words of Allegra Love, another volunteer, are particularly eye-opening: “It’s a jail, and the women and children are being led around by guards.”
The new facilities in Karnes and Dilley, Texas are not much better. While the result of a 1997 lawsuit, Flores v. Meese, requires that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement protect refugee children, the children in these facilities are malnourished and not given proper medical care or schooling.
Most of these families are housed in the facility for six months until a hearing date can be secured, and are subsequently deported back to their home countries. Most do not receive lawyers and cannot participate in the legal proceedings, since they are conducted in English and not translated for the Spanish-speaking refugees.
Say what you will about the morality of immigration and what stance the United States should take, but this is wrong. Our government is failing to protect those in need, and those who are asking for our help in a completely legal way.
As members of the human race, we are charged with helping others in need. As Americans, we are responsible not only for each other, but for citizens of other less fortunate countries.
We so easily forget our own immigration stories. Most of us, save for Native Americans, are immigrants. My father’s family arrived in America from Ireland in the 1880s. My mother’s family made the journey from Germany in the late 1700s. Your genealogy likely links you to a different country, too.
The next time you think about immigration, place yourself in an immigrant’s shoes. Imagine living in a poor, violence-ridden country with your family. What would you do? Submit yourself to violence and poverty or attempt to pursue a better life in a country where there is hope for your children’s future?
Stop thinking of immigration as a numbers game. It’s as personal as it gets.