While our attention has been hyper-focused on the pandemic and the upcoming national elections, new regulations and protocols have been implemented by the Trump administration that are increasing the misery experienced by migrant children and families detained on the U.S. Southwest border.
Since March, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents have used a century-old provision in the federal code to grant unprecedented authority to the agency to halt immigration proceedings and accelerate the deportation of more than 100,000 families, unaccompanied minors, and individuals. Mark Morgan, the CBP chief, said, “We’re trying to remove them as fast as we can.”
Indeed they are. His agency not only has been fast tracking deportations of unaccompanied minors, including numerous cases of infants accompanied only by teenage moms, but worse still, it has been increasing its practice of holding unaccompanied minors alone in hotel rooms for several days before deporting them, without medical care or a proper hearing. Moreover, the surge in expulsions in the midst of a pandemic has meant that the U.S. is routinely exporting COVID-positive persons overseas.
Inhumane and cruel policies with respect to immigrants is nothing new for this administration. Presidential adviser Stephen Miller, the architect of Trump’s notorious policy of separating children from parents as a means of deterring immigration, collaborating with acting Homeland Security Secretary—and Trump sycophant—Chad Wolf, are finding new ways to terrify families seeking asylum in the U.S.
Make no mistake, the arduous journey to the United States from the Northern Triangle countries of Central America is long and dangerous. Families leave to escape violence, poverty, and limited opportunities for their children—yet they arrive to find cold detention cells, forced isolation, and a lack of basic health care. With little to no notice, they are driven to an airport—within days of their arrival in the U.S.—and shipped off to the very places they just risked their lives to leave. Traumatized, and often sick.
So what can be done now to alleviate this suffering and install a more humane process for managing migrants seeking asylum in the U.S.?
First, DHS should impose a moratorium on deportations during the pandemic—especially to countries with overwhelmed health-care systems, such as Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. President Trump has actually pledged to send ventilators to treat the very same COVID patients he has deported to Central America, seemingly unaware of—or more likely unconcerned about—the cynical irony of this gesture. It seems clear that the president would like us to believe that migrants and asylum seekers pose a greater COVID-19 threat to the U.S. than his own incompetence and mismanagement of the crisis from day one.
Second, CBP and ICE must abide by a June 2020 federal court ruling which states that due to the growing threat of COVID-19 in overcrowded detention facilities, the Trump administration must, “with all deliberate speed,” release all detained migrant children to U.S. sponsors or other appropriate facilities. For families and individuals who remain in federal detention, proper and humane conditions and good medical care must be provided. The substandard medical care provided at ICE facilities is inadequate to handle a typical flu season—let alone a deadly pandemic—and as such requires strict new protocols to protect the health of both detainees and employees. As of late August, over 21,066 migrants and asylum seekers remain detained in ICE facilities, with crowded conditions in the cells exacerbating the rampant spread of the virus, which has already infected over 5,048 detainees.
Third, migrants who feel they have a legitimate claim to asylum in the U.S. are entitled to a hearing. Under today’s protocols this right to immigration proceedings is being routinely flouted: 96 percent of migrants and asylum seekers are deported without any legal representation in under two hours, according to the CBP. But every potentially deserving individual must have an opportunity to be heard in court.
Finally, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that border protocols driven by a xenophobic political agenda are not just bad policy, but a continuing source of unconscionable misery for thousands of people whose main crime is seeking a better life. Americans should expect that policies affecting the health and well-being of people are informed and driven not by political and ideological agendas, but by experienced public health officials, mental health advocates, and humanitarian principles.
That’s why, in the midst of a lethal once-in-a-hundred-years pandemic, we are calling for a comprehensive public health approach to the border crisis, one that involves the input of such officials, combined with real-time data analytics, regular physical and mental health examinations, and health care literacy and advocacy.
But even before our four-point plan is implemented, we must at the very least hold the Trump administration accountable for its inhumane border policies. Separating families, detaining children, and deporting unaccompanied minors who may be infected with Sars-CoV-2 “as quickly as possible” does not keep us safe, nor does it “Make America Great.”