Not Temporary and Not Shelter

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Last month, I traveled to El Paso (Texas) and Juarez (Mexico) to bear witness to the humanitarian crisis that continues to unfold and to volunteer with respite centers helping the migrants and asylum seekers.

When we hear of a child in a juvenile detention center, we wonder what was their crime — what did he/she do to be placed in detention? Right now, there are nearly 14,000 children in detention centers and shelters throughout this nation for crimes they did not commit. Either the children came to the United States with their parents who are legally seeking asylum and refuge from their homeland (which is not a crime) or were sent here for safety by loving and fearful parents. They did nothing wrong. Nor did their parents.

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Not fake news. How I wish it was.

One of these facilities is in Tornillo Texas. Tornillo is in the middle of nowhere and far from residential or industrial areas so Americans don’t have to see it in their daily lives. As there is no public transport to Tornillo, unless you can afford your own car or a hired car, you cannot get (or leave) there.

On October 27th, we attended a peaceful protest rally outside the Tornillo confinements.

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Our government calls it a tent city or a camp. I went to summer camp. This is not a camp. This is a prison for innocent children. Tornillo was deemed a temporary shelter for only 30 days for a few hundred children. That is a lie. It has been operational for far longer and it has grown five-fold in size, now able to hold thousands of children indefinitely. Which it does.

How do the children get here? Those in the know, those who have not blindly turned this page of our history and who have borne witness have described the trucks of children coming in the night. From where do they come?

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Ashley (a self-proclaimed Radical Social Worker) writes, “Children are taken in the middle of the night from licensed facilities and foster homes with operational and child welfare guidelines including education and adequate access to legal assistance, and moved to the tent city in Tornillo, with very little oversight, and little to no access to education and legal assistance. We have a situation where what was intended to be a shelter for a few hundred unaccompanied children to be operational for 30 days, is now a child prison, with little oversight and indefinite sentences.”

When we arrive, we are told that we cannot visit inside the facility. We are told that ICE is being “protective of their privacy.” That is fake news. How easy it is to dismiss nameless and faceless children. How easy to move on to the next topic of the day. Not so easy when you see sobbing children with fear in their eyes. Our tears shed as we thought of the children. Although we could not see them behind the stone and barbed wire walls, we knew the loneliness and despair and thus, the anguish and cruelty they were experiencing as we rallied to reunite and free their families.

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The same language and the same tactics were used by the Nazis. Moving people in the middle of the night. Mothers being told that their children were being taken to get showers. Building their factories for human obliteration far from the public eye. Calling these buildings simply “camps.” The list goes on. My father’s family in Czechoslovakia never thought it could happen to them. Yet it did. We know it did. This is not fake news. How I wish it was.

If I am not reaching your heart with this destruction of humanity in the making, then perhaps I can reach your wallet. Tornillo costs the taxpayers/government approximately $100 million a month to run. Certainly, a significant portion of the cost is for personnel. Other costs include water trucks brought in repeatedly during the day to provide clean water and take the dirty water out. Electricity is insufficiently provided by generators. The great businessman that Agent Orange is (now that’s fake news) advocates that this is a scalable model for immigrant detention. $100 million monthly for 1 single, make-shift “temporary” facility.

The current administration created this humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied, entirely vulnerable migrant children through unlawful and forced family separation. There are confirmed abuses and even more allegations. We are talking about innocent children…the scars — emotional, mental, physical — are unfathomable and yet they must be owned by all of us who allow this to happen.

It is happening yet again. I was brought up with the mantra, “Never forget, never let it happen again.” This I was told as I learned about the murders of my paternal family at Nazi concentration camps. As I said in the Congo, as I said in Lesvos, Greece, as I said when I bore witness and volunteered in other parts of the world, it is happening again. So why the silence? And it is happening not on other continents, not in other countries; it is happening right here on American soil, in our own country.

How many times has this happened in the short time our country has been in existence? We have discriminated against people of color since our nation’s beginning. As other examples, we attacked the Native Americans (completely decimating their way of life), the Catholics, the Irish, the Italians, the Japanese (forcing hundreds of thousands living in the U.S. into internment camps), then the Jews, then the Muslims, and now people of the Americas from the south seeking asylum here.

Who is next? Your group? Will you then scream into the wind, “This is not fake news?”

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How you can help

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Photos Credit: Emily Scott (unless otherwise indicated)