Things That Matter

Refugees At This Mexican Border Camp Are Facing A Severe Humanitarian Crisis Thanks To US Immigration Policy

We wish we were writing to tell you that the border camps are closing down. Or at least being investigated as part of the impeachment proceedings. But no, we’re yet to see any official scrutiny into the border camps and their operation. In fact, we’re here to tell you that not only is the US operating these camps and subjecting migrants to some horrific conditions, but Mexico now has some well-established border camps, too.

The main border camp in Mexico is based in Matamoros.

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Reports peg the population of Matamoros at 2,000 migrants. As for the conditions at the camp, well. They are, let’s be honest, squalid at best. Some asylum-seekers are stuck living in tents and tarpaulins, while other sleep in bushes, or just on the streets. It’s common to see asylum seekers bathing in the Rio Grande, which carries its own set of health risks – given that it is known to be contaminated with E.Coli and other unfriendly bacteria. “This is a temporary camp, so nobody is putting infrastructure. There’s no running water … no proper sanitation. There’s no way to wash your hands after you’ve used the washrooms, which are absolutely indescribable,” said the director of Amnesty International UK, Kate Allen, in a recent interview.

Health-wise, the camp is a breeding ground for disease.

Doctors Without Borders said that in a three-week period last month, it completed 178 consultations for things such as hypertension, diabetes, diarrhoea, asthma and a bunch of psychiatric conditions. Over 50 percent of these patients were just children. And sure, health issues are just one of many problems with staying at the camp. Matamoros is known to also have its own issues with the cartels, meaning that refugees make the perfect targets for violence and sexual assaults. 

Even though this is all happening in Mexico, the core of the problem lies with US immigration policy.

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In order to solve the immigration issues happening right before our eyes, we have to first acknowledge the ways in which policy influences the situation. These migrants who are stuck in a hellish limbo in Mexico are suffering the consequences of the Trump administration’s attitudes towards asylum seekers. We’re seeing this not only in the impending Supreme Court judgment that may end the DACA program, but also the shift towards making migrants wait in a “safe third country” for their asylum applications to process.

It’s this very policy that has created what is essentially an international queue of people desperately seeking refuge from violence and natural disasters. The camp at Matamoros is a symptom of much broader issues: applications for asylum in the US need to be processed faster – and refugees should not have to literally live outside until their applications are processed.

Some experts compare the conditions to those found in massive refugee camps of Africa.

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The most stark commentary around the issue has come from Amnesty International Kenya’s executive director, Iruũgũ Houghton. “I’ve been in one of the world’s biggest camps and that’s the Dadaab camp, which is at the northern border of Kenya with Somalia and every time I’m in that space my blood boils. It really just gets to me, the level of injustice and it feels like that [in Matamoros],” said Houghton in an interview with TPR. He also pointed out that Kenya is currently playing host to 468,000 refugees – while the US, a much bigger country with considerably more wealth, has capped their refugee intake to just 18,000 people annually. Sí, amigas, none of this looks good on the international stage.

Unfortunately, this border camp business doesn’t stop at Matamoros, either.

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And no, we’re not talking about the detention centers on the US-side of the border. The migrant population is getting too big for Mexican officials to handle at Matamoros, and so they have launched a new initiative to try to get camp dwellers to move elsewhere. However, the authorities are having a hard time trying to get them to move. So much so, they have threatened to use child protection services to separate migrant families within Mexico, arguing that the current conditions in the Matamoros camp were no place for a child to live. Someone call a doctor: our eyes are rolling so far back in our heads, we’re in danger of losing them altogether.

The government is constructing a new facility nearby but it too will be too small to handle the growing crisis.

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While the new migrant shelter – a converted gymnasium – can house about 300, and is decidedly much more comfortable with its luxury of an actual roof, the migrants at Matamoros are unconvinced. The resounding fear is that, once away from Matamoros, the refugees will not have the same ease of access to aid workers, relief packages, and legal services. Whether those fears are unfounded or not remains to be seen.

Migrant Portraits Won A Prestigious Smithsonian Art Award And The Artist Is The First Latino To Win

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Migrant Portraits Won A Prestigious Smithsonian Art Award And The Artist Is The First Latino To Win

National Portrait Gallery / YouTube

How do you illustrate the emotion of the U.S. immigration story without using any words? Artist Hugo Crosthwaite won the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition Friday, for accomplishing exactly that. Crosthwaite is the First Latino to win the competition, held every three years since 2006 by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

Born in Tijuana, Crosthwaite grew up familiar with the starting point of the Mexico to U.S. immigration story. Today, he lives in San Diego, California, where he was able to interview Latinos living on the other side. The work that won him a $25,000 grant, is just one part of a series of interviews. 

Meet Berenice Sarmiento Chávez.

Credit: National Portrait Gallery / YouTube

“Set to the soundtrack of a dissonant guitar and a raspy voice singing in Spanish,” The National Portrait Gallery describes the video on YouTube. “This animated video reveals the dreams and experiences of a young woman from Tijuana who seeks to take part in the American Dream. Black ink, gray wash, and white paint—applied by the invisible hand of the artist— take turns to expose Berenice Sarmiento Chávez’s humble background and the threat of violence in her home country that pushed her to immigrate to the United States. The film suggests that the immigration journey is seeded with constant danger, especially for women and children.”

While the video editing work conveys a story, Crosthwaite’s drawings are improvisational.

Credit: National Portrait Gallery / YouTube

We first meet Chávez in her Mexican home. Then, a calavera is drawn into the backdrop, seeming to either place an idea onto Chávez or minimize her story to that of a cartoon. The American Dream, as depicted by a Micky Mouse lookalike, seems to be a familiar character to this angel of death.

Crosthwaite captured at least 1,400 images to create the video.

Credit: National Portrait Gallery / YouTube

Crosthwaite told CNN that Chávez honored her story as she told it, with embellishments and all. “We are defined by the stories that we tell ourselves, either real or imagined, to deal with difficult situations in our lives,” he told CNN. “Rather than playing the role of journalist where I recount a factual event, I have left the video open to interpretation just as Berenice left me with her vague and unsettling story.”

One by one, the women and children that migrated alongside her died.

Credit: National Portrait Gallery / YouTube

Chávez continues on, with her head down, carrying just a couple bags. Soon, the black cloaks of her lost friends overwhelm the image. Surrounded in a deep shadow of presumable grief, her delicately drawn face is covered in the thick swipe of deep black paint in a single moment.

The next scene shows Chávez trying to make her life in the U.S., surrounded by unseen wealth.

Credit: National Portrait Gallery / YouTube

Soon, these men, too, are cloaked in dark black paint. Then, their faces are embellished with the symbol of U.S. currency: a white dollar sign. This time, the rest of the portrait is overwhelmed by white paint. Instead of being overshadowed by the black paint that marked the death of her fellow migrant Latinos, Chávez’s face is covered by a stark white paint. She’s in America now.

Then, we finally see an intimate look at her face, only to watch a gun be painted inside her world.

Credit: National Portrait Gallery / YouTube

In an instant, the gun fires, and she’s once again overtaken by a stark white paint, that erases the detail of her person. It’s almost as if the gun has a similar perspective to the grim reaper. The details of her life, or why she is fleeing everything she’s known, are no matter. To the grim reaper, to the gun, to ICE, she is a caricature of what ‘migrant’ means.

Finally, we see a small child, living under a dome of black paint.

Credit: National Portrait Gallery / YouTube

Is it Chávez as a child? Is it her own child, who seems to be dressed in American fashion, left behind, alone? There are no words to this story. Our guess is as good as yours.

The last jolt of emotion is felt in the credits.

Credit: National Portrait Gallery / YouTube

After watching Chávez’s migration story – its hope, its deaths, and the resultant family separation – the video tells us this simple fact. The cheerful audio and traditional Mexican music we hear may be the beginning of someone else’s story. The cycle continues. Hope that is lost to U.S. immigration policies that result in migrants being deported without their children.

READ: David Zambrano of “DezCustomz” Talks to Us About Family, Art, And When He Finally Thought He’d “Made It”

CBP Officials Are Blaming The Two Deaths Of Undocumented Migrants In One Week On Health Issues

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CBP Officials Are Blaming The Two Deaths Of Undocumented Migrants In One Week On Health Issues

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While the news may have shifted toward President Donald Trump’s impeachment and the wildfires in California, the immigration crisis is still very much a prevalent issue here in the U.S. and in Mexico. As the U.S. continues to enforce its “Remain in Mexico” policy, which requires asylum seekers to go back to Mexico after they have filed their asylum application and await their hearing, Mexico insists they are protecting those undocumented people in their country. However, undocumented people who are living around the border as they wait for their asylum hearing say conditions in Mexico are not good and unsafe. The situation in the U.S. isn’t all that better. 

In just one week, two undocumented people have died while in border patrol custody. They were both being detained by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Tuscon, Arizona.

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The first unfortunate story comes out of Arizona where a 49-year-old Mexican national died on Oct. 21of an alleged pre-existing heart condition, CBP said in a Tuesday statement, according to The Hill. As of this publishing, the man has yet to be named and no press release statement appears on the CBP website. 

Just a couple of days later, on Oct. 26, a 33-year-old Mexican woman died while also being detained by the CBP in Tuscon. According to the Tucson Sentinel, the woman “was found unconscious at an intersection near Tubac, Ariz., two weeks ago.” She succumbed to her condition at a Tucson hospital on Saturday morning. 

Both deaths appear to be unrelated to their treatment within CBP custody but instead alleged health causes as officials stated. 

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In the case of the 33-year-old woman, according to the Tucson Sentinel, “the deputy was responding to a 911 call reported that a woman was passed out at an intersection,” Meredith Mingledorff, a spokeswoman for CBP told the newspaper. “She was taken to a Tucson hospital where she was found to have injuries consistent with severe dehydration.”

There’s not much more information regarding the 49-year-old Mexican national who died of a heart condition. CBP officials said in a statement, according to The Hill, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection is saddened to report a 49-year-old man from Mexico was pronounced deceased Monday morning in a Southern Arizona hospital. Our condolences are with his family.”

These two deaths in one week are just the latest in a string of recent deaths of undocumented people in CBP and ICE custody.

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On Oct. 16, Roylan Hernandez-Diaz, a 43-year-old man from Cuba died after he allegedly committed suicide at the Richwood Correctional Center in Louisiana.  Then on Oct. 2, Nebane Abienwi, a 37-year-old Cameroon male national died under ICE custody at the Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center where “he was undergoing treatment for a brain hemorrhage since Sept. 26,” ICE said in a statement. According to ICE, Abienwi began “experiencing a hypertensive event in the middle of the night” and “began immediate treatment upon arrival.”

It’s unclear how many people have died in CBP or ICE custody because each death is tracked differently in every fiscal year.

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Each department handles its own numbers, along with separating by gender and age group (children or adults). It’s also challenging to get an exact number because they track them under their fiscal year which begins in October. Some news outlets report that 24 undocumented people died within the 2018-2019 fiscal year. The Tuscon Sentinial reports that 12 undocumented people died in 2019 alone.  The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) is also keeping track of deaths that occur while undocumented people are being detained. 

When someone dies in government custody, they typically give out the same statement, which is: “ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody. While any death in ICE custody is unfortunate, fatalities in ICE custody are exceedingly rare. Statistically, fatalities in ICE custody occur at a small fraction of the national average for detained populations in federal or state custody.”

Immigration advocates stress that undocumented people are being detained inhumanely and are living in dire conditions.

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Medical personnel and legal teams have expressed that they have witnessed terrible conditions that undocumented people live in each day.

Earlier this year, Victoria López, a Senior Staff Attorney, with the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project said that they are keeping track of their reports about how undocumented people are being treated by these government agencies. “Immigration detention poses life-threatening health and safety risks for the tens of thousands of people who are locked up across the country,” she stated. “These abuses are not only a problem with ICE. The Border Patrol operates a system of jails where migrants are detained, typically in the nation’s border regions. These jails are notoriously known as ‘hieleras,’ or iceboxes, because of the frigid temperatures inside of the cells. The conditions in these cells are so unsafe that a lawsuit was filed in 2015 to force the agency to meet basic constitutional standards.”

READ: In Another Dangerous Attack On Migrants, ICE Is Denying Women Lifesaving Medical Care At This Texas Facility