By Richard Morales
The president’s cruelty toward non-white immigrants cannot be understated and Congress must end it. Trump’s fiery, anti-immigrant rhetoric and angry words that play to his political base also give tacit approval to immigration agents on the border and in our communities to abuse immigrants, then “throw them the hell out.”
So they have, in ways that bring tears to one’s eyes when immigrants like Orquídia Támara Hernández describe being treated by agents like a dog.
“There is a lot of racism in the detention centers. They treat you like an animal. Sometimes when you go eat, they say ‘doggie, doggie,’” said Hernández, who was detained for 13 months at Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego County. Hernández, her son, pregnant daughter-in-law and 2-year-old grandson escaped from Guatemala after she and her son were forced to their knees, guns pointed at their heads, and ordered to work for the drug syndicate, or else. The “or else” drove the family to the California-Mexico border, where, instead of being allowed to claim asylum, they were placed in separate detention facilities. Her son was sent to Georgia, then to South Carolina, where he remains in detention 15 months after arriving in the U.S. Her grandson and daughter-in-law, who has since given birth to a boy, were released because of the young woman’s pregnancy.
Their release belies the reality of life — or end of life — in a detention center. “I saw pregnant women, two to three months pregnant, who had pains and were sent to the nurse. They would come out of there, devastated because there was no longer a child in the womb, and they didn’t know why they had lost that baby,” Hernández said recently told faith leaders. She also remembers by name and cell number another detainee who became ill and never returned from her visit with the nurse. Hernández and others learned of the woman’s death while watching a television newscast, which a guard hurriedly turned off.
Trump wants “tougher” treatment of immigrants. Death while being detained is not tough enough? The record, requiring congressional investigation, speaks for itself.
Newly-ousted U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, dutifully supervised the snatching of crying babies from their mothers’ arms, housing them in wire cages, and then robotically denied to Congress that the family separation policy or the cages really existed. The administration recently admitted it could take two years to identify thousands of small children who were taken from their families.
But Trump whisperer and White House aide, Stephen Miller viewed Nielsen’s job performance as not tough enough. Her temporary replacement, Kevin McAleenan, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, may fall into the same category. McAleenan was in charge McAleenan was in charge during last year’s family separations and when migrants were tear gassed as they sought a path to U.S. soil to seek asylum — an image we will never forget. But McAleenan does not unconditionally support family separations and other “throw them the hell out” Trump policies.
Trump also decided to go “in a tougher direction” when he withdrew the nomination of Ron Vitiello as director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a position he held temporarily since last summer. Yet, under his watch, Vitiello has created a reign of terror in our communities.
A Faith in Action ISAIAH Minnesota leader captured on cellphone video how she was pushed and pulled by aggressive ICE agents as she tried to determine why long-time community leader, Carlos Urrutia, was shockingly stripped of his dignity and arrested inside a courtroom. ICE also has betrayed immigrants, who, in good faith, reported for regular check-ins at regional offices, only to be taken into custody and deported, and some beaten in the process.
Besides undoing asylum rights, Trump plans to “get rid” of immigration judges and other constitutional rights that belong to every person on U.S. soil. That lack of justice led Rosa Gutiérrez López, who escaped violence in El Salvador, to take sanctuary at a church in Bethesda, MD. four months ago. She wears an ankle bracelet, a reminder that she will be deported and separated from her children, including a special needs child, unless her stay for deportation is granted.
The Trump-created chaos requires Congress to exert its oversight authority and defund hate. We owe it to our fellow human beings to invest in love by investing in people, not hate.
Richard Morales is the Policy and Program Director of Faith in Action’s immigrants’ rights program, LA RED.