Cepeda column: Don’t look away — the horrors at the border are still happening
CHICAGO — Lest we forget, inhumanity and injustice continue unabated at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The topic of these horrors seems to have been left for dead because of the focus on a potential presidential impeachment, the 2020 election and, well, life.
It is human nature to attempt to go on even in the face of widespread suffering. All over the country, people are getting excited for Halloween — even those children who are scarred from having been separated from their parents at the border, and kids who are in this country illegally and endure teasing about it at school.
Yes, even young adults who have no idea how long it will be before life as they’ve known it will evaporate are wondering what sort of fantasy and dress-up motif to indulge in for a few hours of release from their worries. They will try to forget that they could be sent back to a country at any time that they, for all intents and purposes, don’t even remember.
In turn, those who are free from such pressing anxieties must do their part to not forget that there are millions of people who need us to remember their anguish. This includes people both here in the U.S. — our friends, neighbors and co-workers — and the desperate souls at the border seeking entry.
Here’s a short run-down of what’s going on:
• Late last month, a federal court upheld protections for immigrant children kept in detention, reinforcing the so-called Flores Settlement Agreement, which says that children should be held in immigration custody for no more than 20 days. And the ruling maintains the requirement that facilities holding children make every effort to address opportunities for kids to be released to responsible adults.
• Also in September, a federal court blocked the expansion of an “expedited removal” program. This would have allowed the government to deport people without such basic due process procedures as getting to speak with an attorney or presenting evidence in their own defense.
• Last week, the Trump administration backed down on its strategy to levy six-figure fines on immigrants seeking sanctuary in holy spaces like churches and mosques. It was an intimidation tactic that never stood a chance, because it relies on extracting huge sums of money from people who are basically peasants living in monastic conditions as an alternative to being deported to a country where they fear imminent starvation or violent death.
Those were the bright spots. Now on to the egregious happenings of late:
• A new lawsuit underscores the corruption in America’s deportation apparatus. A woman from Honduras who was living in Connecticut unlawfully was allegedly threatened with deportation and death by an immigration agent who, the woman said, sexually assaulted her for several years, impregnated her three times and paid for an abortion. The lawsuit names the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and a former ICE agent.
• The Trump administration has new plans to take DNA samples from the hundreds of thousands of people living in detention centers without their consent. The Justice Department says this will help solve crimes, but where does the use of mass surveillance tools and involuntary capture of biometric data stop?
• Lastly, more walls have captured President Trump’s imagination. During a speech last Thursday in Pittsburgh, he told his adoring admirers: “And we’re building a wall on the border of New Mexico. And we’re building a wall in Colorado. We’re building a beautiful wall. A big one that really works — that you can’t get over, you can’t get under.” Trump later tweeted that his reference to a Colorado wall — hundreds of miles from the U.S-Mexico border — was made “kiddingly.”
Sure, you could just shrug your shoulders if none of these situations directly affects you. But civil liberties have a way of being eroded when no one’s watching. And it’s a short hop from how the Trump administration treats immigrants to how it could decide to treat foreign-born U.S. citizens and, then, U.S.-born citizens.
Open your eyes and see what’s happening right now. Though none of us can take in the injustices without averting our gazes to regroup and recharge, please turn back. There are still children living in prison-like conditions at the border, if not in literal metal cages. There are still constitutional violations of migrants’ rights and other horrors that require our sustained attention and anger — all the way into November 2020.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @estherjcepeda.
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