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I'm Ashamed of My Country

In 1978, the film Midnight Express, based upon a book by the same name, shocked Americans with its depiction of the horrible conditions imposed upon inmates in a Turkish prison. The main character, an American, had been convicted of drug smuggling and the film served as a warning to other Americans and Europeans about the danger of becoming incarcerated in a foreign prison where human rights and health concerns were ignored by the government officials.

Most Americans are fearful about becoming a prisoner in foreign country, especially a third-world country or one with a dictatorial government. It is assumed that prisoners in those countries are not treated with the same concern for health, safety and human rights issues as they would be in the United States. But now we have reports of our own country treating locked up persons in degrading ways. And those locked up people are detainees, not prisoners. Many of them are children. 

Last week we heard reports from lawyers, social workers and pediatricians about deplorable conditions at the Clint, Texas Border Patrol facility were 300 children were being held with insufficient food and water and without adults to care for them. Older children were caring for toddlers and younger children who were not even their relatives because there was no one else to care for the young ones. No one was caring for the older children, who were often young teens. Children were sleeping on the floor covered by Mylar blankets. They were not given toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap or diapers. Many had not showered for weeks. Several children had the flu and others were quarantined with illness. So far, six migrant children have died in U.S. custody.

There has been plenty of effort to cast blame for the situation of migrants and especially migrant children in U.S. custody. President Trump blames the Obama administration who, he says, created the custodial conditions in the first place. Democrats blame the president, referring to his “inhumane, outside-the-circle-of-civilized attitude toward the children,” in the words of Nancy Pelosi. The president has countered, that he is as worried about the children as anyone, but the congress needs to give him the money to address their needs. Meanwhile, lawyers representing the Trump administration have argued in court that the government is not required to meet the children’s needs because the Flores Settlement Agreement, under which the so-called unaccompanied minors are held (many of them are unaccompanied because it is the government’s policy to separate children accompanied by adults who are not their parents, even if the adult is a relative and to classify the children as “unaccompanied) didn’t say anything about providing a “toothbrush,” “towels,” “dry clothing,” “soap,” or even “sleep,” so the government need not provide such things. Even donations of diapers and toothbrushes were turned away at the Clint facility.

The government’s policy is bad, the measures they have taken are bad and the agencies tasked with taking care of the children don’t have the funds to do it properly or safely. In the richest country in the world, one would think that this couldn’t happen. At the least, finding out that it has happened, congress should step in and appropriate the money and insist that it be spent on health, hygiene and safety issues of the children being detained. Instead, we have both parties fighting with one another over possible bills to at least partially ameliorate the situation. The House has just passed a $4.5 billion dollar spending bill, which, according to the Washington Post,  requires the Customs and Border Patrol “to establish new health and safety standards for migrants in its custody, as well as protocols for dealing with migrant surges, within 30 days.” Children could not be detained a shelters for more than 90 days. In addition, HHS shelter contractors who failed to provide adequate sleeping, food and hygiene items, such as diapers, soap and toothbrushes plus medical care and schooling, would lose their contracts. 

The House bill passed almost exclusively along party lines. Republicans in the Senate and the president oppose the bill. Mitch McConnell says there’s no point bringing such a bill to the Senate floor because he knows the president will veto it if it is passed. The Senate is working on their own$4.6 billion bill, which includes more funding for border enforcement, ICE funding and money to hire more immigration judges. Only $2.9 billion of the proposed Senate bill addresses health and safety issues of detained children.

Some House progressives, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York,  Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan voted against the House bill, claiming that it failed to stop deportations and continued to support holding children in custody, but they offered no counter measure that would provide funding to assist the children.

Right now, with the condition of detained children in a humanitarian crisis state, opposing forces within our government of elected representatives are locked in a partisan battle, which appears to insure that nothing will get done to help the children. Both sides refuse to give in and both seem most concerned with scoring points with their bases by standing firm on their positions. For both sides, being seen as unwilling to compromise on one’s position is more important than solving a crisis that is threatening the lives of children. 

I am ashamed of the conditions in which we keep detained children. I am equally ashamed of our politicians, both liberals and conservatives, progressives and right-wingers, and our president and his appointees for failing to work together to solve this problem. I’m tired of our leaders, and many who support them, putting ideological purity ahead of humanitarian concerns. I’m ashamed of the United States of America.








Reader Comments (3)

I, too, am not only deeply ashamed but extremely angry and frustrated. I have made donations to RAICES and additional contributions to ACLU for the defense of and aid to these children, but I'm ready to fly to these concentration camps and protest outside the gates. I do disagree most strongly with the false equivalence of your essay, Casey, between Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats did pass a bill that funds decent care for the children and requires the enforcement authorities to come up with health and welfare provisions within 30 days. It's immaterial that a few of the self-styled progressives voted against it. The Democrats passed it. It's the rethugnicans in the Senate and the toxic waste in the White House that are blocking humanity and decency. They're NOT the same. It's because of these false equivalences that we lose elections to these self-serving mockeries of public servants.

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAnca Vlasopolos

False equivalence is not the issue. The Democratic House bill includes more humanitarian aid than the Republican Senate bill and the administration has argued that it's not responsible for taking care of the childrens' health, so the two sides aren't equivalent. But being morally better than your opponent doesn't solve the problem. The Republicans could give in, since the Democratic bill addresses the humanitarian need, but they won't because it doesn't address enforcement. The Democrats could have included funding for more immigration judges and back pay for ICE employees, and they might have gotten Republican support, but they didn't because portions of Democratic House caucus wouldn't tolerate those measures. Now they have a bill that is almost guaranteed not to pass the Senate and if it does, it will be vetoed. And the senate bill when it comes out, won't pass the House. There is nothing noble about writing a good bill that you knew wouldn't become enacted. The children will still be without diapers and toothbrushes and beds and enough food and all that will happen is that both sides will blame the other. It doesn't matter whose fault it is, the problem needs to be solved and if the only way to do that is give in on enough issues to get bipartisan support, then both sides need to do that. Anything less is shameful because it leaves the problem unsolved.

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCasey Dorman

Deplorable and shameful.
So is legally letting child labor as young as 11 or 12 work in the fields or imprisoning people claiming an international right of asylum.
Ag Child Labor Legal age https://www.dol.gov/whd/state/agriemp2.htm

June 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDariel Garner

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