It seems like week after week we get news of another heartbreaking situation from behind US immigration facilities. Deaths of migrant children or trans detainees, outbreaks of infectious diseases, lack of access to proper medical care.
Sadly, this week is no different as we learn about the truly inhumane conditions currently being faced by immigrants on the U.S.-Mexico border.
A premature baby and its teen mother were found severely neglected at a Texas immigration facility.
The 17-year-old girl from Guatemala was forced to have an emergency cesarean section in Mexico in early May. After the C-Section, the woman crossed the border with her baby on June 4. She told immigration lawyers who found her at a Border Patrol facility this week that people had carried her and her baby through the Rio Grande River, and that she had needed help getting into a Border Patrol car when they apprehended her.
Instead of taking the mother and premature baby to an intensive care unit or medical facility, Border Patrol took them to the McAllen processing facility.
According to the AP, they were held in an overcrowded McAllen processing facility that holds hundreds of parents and children in large, fenced-in areas and gained international attention last year when it detained children separated from their parents. Advocates describe them as cages and say they are extremely cold. The converted warehouse is the same location where a flu outbreak caused authorities to shut down the facility last month.
Only after lawyers for the mother went public with her story, did Border Patrol decide to transfer them to a private facility for proper care.
After the immigration lawyers went public with the conditions the mother and child were in—one told the Huffington Post that the mother had to sit in a wheelchair because of the pain from the C-section, that the baby was “weak and listless,” likely due to dropping body temperature, and that the child had not cried in five hours—Border Patrol suddenly decided on Thursday to transfer them to a private facility for underage immigrants.
People have taken to Twitter with reactions ranging from shock and disgust to horror and anger.
Disgust was the most common reaction across Twitter with this story and, like, why wouldn’t it be? A US government agency allowed a teen mother still in pain from an emergency c-section and her premature baby to be held in cages rather then give them proper medical care.
Other’s have come out accusing the Republican-led administration of absolute hypocrisy.
I mean it seems like over and over the party is enacting legislation to ban abortion on a so-called mission to protect innocent life. But that alleged compassion disappears if the child is already born – especially to an immigrant mother.
People are so outraged that even the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) had so step up and issue clear guidelines to avoid incidents like this in the future.
It usually takes a miracle for the ORR to make any sort of positive change in favor of migrants, so this story definitely had a huge impact on people.
And it shows that if enough people speak out to help defend these migrants from such shockingly cruel conditions, change is possible.
While many pointed out on Twitter that they should of done the right thing for this mother and child from the very beginning.
There is strength is numbers and the next time news of a story like this one breaks, remember the change we made possible before. And speak up again!
Before we go ahead with this story let’s do something rapidito. Ready? OK, so let’s do a little thought experiment…
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you read or hear the word “alien”? Perhaps something like this?
Yeah, something totally out of popular culture sci-fi imaginary, and what all those people that are pretending to storm into Area 51 are hoping to find.
Or perhaps something out of a Hollywood blockbuster? A slimy, flesh-eating beast?
The stuff that comes in your pesadillas at night!
And what about the world “illegal”? Que te viene a la mente? Perhaps a police headshot?
See where we are getting at? Your mind goes to criminality, shoot outs, police stations and fugitives, the world of law enforcement. It makes you feel threatened.
Now, if you combine “illegal” with “alien”, this is what some gringos might think about:
Credit: Giphy. @machetekills
Although Danny Trejo is a sweetheart, he is the epitome of the visual representation of the “bad hombre” in Trumplandia.
And now think about “illegal alien” in the current political context. Does your brain produce an image similar to this?
Credit: image1170x530cropped. Digital image. UN News
It’s a big jump from movie characters and slimy monsters to the plight of thousands of migrants who are fleeing violence, war and persecution in their home countries, right? It doesn’t take a law or literature degree to see how the use of “alien” and “illegal” criminalizes anyone who tries to migrate to another country through whatever means necessary.
Actually the dictionary definitions of these two words are pretty damning:
Credit: black-and-white-dictionary. Digital image. EF English Live
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines them as follows:
“Alien” means “coming from a different country, race, or group” or “strange and not familiar” or “relating to creatures from another planet”.
“Illegal” means “not allowed by law” and the dictionary gives the following examples: “a campaign to stop the illegal sale of cigarettes to children under 16”, “Prostitution is illegal in some countries”, “It is illegal to drive a car that is not registered and insured” and “Cocaine, LSD, and heroin are all illegal drugs/substances”.
Phrasing is important, so that is why Texas Representative Joaquin Castro introduced a bill to change federal legislation and taking off the words “alien” and “illegal” from policy. So what is the terminology he is proposing?
The terms “alien” and “illegal alien” are an accusation rather than a denomination, and Castro doesn’t hold himself back from calling this a way of demonizing and dehumanize migrant communities. According to an article published by Foreign Affairs New Zealand, Castro is proposing a different, middle-ground terminology for describing individuals who migrate to the country outside of the official immigration system: “Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Vice Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and a member of the House Intelligence and Education and Labor Committees, today introduced the CHANGE Act, legislation that eliminates the term “alien” and “illegal alien” from the Immigration and Nationality Act, and replaces them with “foreign national” and “undocumented foreign national” respectively”.
This small but significant change would alter how courts and the justice system in general perceives migrants. Repeat after us: “words matter”!
This is how Joaquin Castro himself puts it: “Words matter. It’s vital that we respect the dignity of immigrants fleeing violence and prosecution in our language. The words “alien” and “illegal alien” work to demonize and dehumanize the migrant community. They should have no place in our government’s description of human beings. Immigrants come to our borders in good faith and work hard for the opportunity to achieve a better life for themselves and their family. Eliminating this language from government expression puts us one step closer to preserving their dignity and ensuring their safety”.
The legal system deals in the currency of words and descriptions. Judges and juries make their decisions based on how the alleged crimes are presented, and the words “alien” and “illegal alien” certainly cast a shadow of criminality over migrants. These words strip them of a face, of a life story, of a personality. And this institutional act of stigmatization takes place regardless of whether the person being judged is an old woman, a adult man or a child (we seriously can’t get over how brutal authorities can be, even getting kids to decide which parent they want to stay with at the border).
The use of “alien” has long been a stigma on the Latino community.
As Jose Antonio Vargas wrote in a heartbreaking 2015 editorial published by The New York Times (we really recommend you read the whole thing):
Those two words, in all caps, adorn the plastic-covered green card that my grandfather, a naturalized U.S. citizen, handed me shortly after I arrived in the United States from the Philippines. I was 12. I don’t remember thinking much about the card (which was not green) or the words (which, strung together, seemed like the title of a video game or a movie). It wasn’t until four years later, while applying to get a driver’s permit, that I learned the card was fake. I wasn’t a “RESIDENT ALIEN” at all but another kind of alien — in common parlance, an “illegal alien.”
The label “alien” is nothing but alienating. And when coupled with “illegal,” it’s especially toxic. The words seep into the psyche, sometimes to the point of paralysis. They’re dehumanizing.
So does Joaquin Castro look like VERY familiar? Well get used to that face (two very trending politicians wear it with Brown Latino pride!)
Joaquin is the twin of Julian Castro, one of the candidates in the run for the Democratic presidential nomination. The brothers were born to a chicana political activist. That is why social justice and human dignity runs in their blood. They are sort of a Latino Kennedy duo championing migrants rights! Yes, please.
BTW, Castro has a long history of fighting for migrant rights, of course
Joaquin Castro was born in 1974, so he is a pretty young politician at just 44 years of age. As we said, his family was politically active from a very early age, so it is no surprise that migration is on top of his legislative agenda. Depending on how his brother Julian does in the Democratic primary (our prediction is that he will get better recognition in mainstream politics, but it is a long shot for him), the Castro twins could either become an important part of the new administration or a fierce opposition to a second Trump term (oh, we hate to say this but we might need to consider the possibility that this might actually happening).
And he is no fan of POTUS.
He is unafraid of calling him out when needed, like when Trump went ballistic over the progressive agenda of the Fantastic Four (that’s how we prefer to call Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib).
It is with unrelenting sadness that we report the death of Heydi Gámez García, 13, who took her life after her father’s asylum request was denied for the third time. Heydi’s father, Manuel Gámez, sent her to the U.S. after his father was gunned down by MS-13 for refusing to pay a “war tax” to the gang. He didn’t expect that Heydi would be granted asylum, but that he would be deported.
Manuel certainly didn’t envision that his goodbye hug and kiss four years ago would be the last time he would hug and kiss his daughter while she was still alive.
The Gámaz family was broken by MS-13 and failed again by the U.S. immigration system.
Credit: @amy_baker22 / Twitter
Heydi’s mother walked out on her and her dad when she was less than two months old. By the time Heydi was a year old, Manuel left for New York as an undocumented immigrant to make money to send back home. After his father was killed by MS-13, and his mother’s health started failing, he worried about who would care for Heydi and his younger sister, Zoila.
Manuel’s sister was granted asylum and cared for Heydi in his absence in New York.
A year after his father’s death, he sent Heydi, Zoila and his brother to the U.S. Heydi and Zoila were granted asylum. Heydi learned English within a year and started teaching her father, via phone calls, how to correctly pronounce English words. They spoke every day, always asking when he’d come.
After two failed attempts to gain asylum, Heydi lost hope for being reunited and started cutting herself.
He never wanted to make promises he couldn’t keep, like being there for her quinceañera. Heydi watched her classmates complain about their parents’ visiting their school and fell into a depression. In December, she was brought to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation after cutting her wrist at school. She was seeing a therapist until two months before her suicide.
“Please forgive me for failing you,” Manuel wants to tell his daughter.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t be there… I never meant to leave you,” he says to her. Heydi was Manuel’s only child. Heydi’s aunt is coping with impossible guilt. She told CNN, “I was supposed to be protecting her. I would never send her to Honduras. But I never thought something bad would happen to her here.”
Manuel was released on a two week ‘humanitarian’ visit to release Heydi from life support.
He finally got to hold her hand and comfort her as she left this life behind. “We love you,” he whispered to her. “Don’t leave us.”
The last thing Heydi told anyone was that she lost hope in being reunited with her father.
She was crying as she told her aunt that she feels hopeless and that one day, she’ll become a lawyer to help her dad’s case. She then said she wanted to be alone and was found two hours later in a closet. She didn’t leave a note.
She was declared brain dead a week later at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Queens.
Dr. Charles Schleien told CNN that she was in a “neurologically devastated state” upon arrival with “no hope for recovery.” He went on to disclose that the Gámaz family “chose to turn tragedy into the gift of life. Heydi is an organ donor and her final act will be to save others.”
The mental health impacts of family separation at our borders can only be told one story at a time.
It is the only empathic way to relate to the emotional scars of our community. Every story is important. Every life lost to policies that don’t incorporate the most visceral human desires, like growing up with your father by your side, is one life too many.
What on earth are we doing?
How can anyone go about business as usual? How do we humanize brown-skinned people to every voter and decision-maker? The only way we know how is to continually voice your concerns to your representatives and create space for these stories. Don’t look away. The grief of the Gámaz family is all of our grief.
A Manuel, you did not fail your daughter. We all did. We are so sorry.
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