Op-ed: Condemning conditions at border

On July 2, the Jackson County Democrat Women’s Club voted unanimously to condemn the Trump administration’s treatment of asylum seekers and migrants at our southern border. We are shocked and appalled at keeping single adults in standing-room-only conditions for a week with only bologna sandwiches to eat, and no opportunity to lie down to sleep, bathe or change clothes, cramming cells beyond capacity and keeping people 40-50 days in what were designed as temporary facilities.

These conditions are even more horrifying when they involve children as young as five months, separated from their parents, held in overcrowded cages with guards instead of caretakers, no baths, no soap, no toothbrushes or toothpaste, cold concrete to sleep on with only a Mylar blanket for warmth. Career immigration attorneys who have been allowed inside these facilities report the worst conditions they have ever seen: a stench from the unbathed children, untreated lice and flu outbreaks, lights on 24 hours a day and guards directing 8- or 9-year-olds to care for toddlers because there was no one else to do it. Soiled diapers went unchanged, children cried for their parents, and one baby was kept in such cold conditions that her hands and feet were turning blue. Members of Congress who have toured some of the facilities report these conditions as well, and the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General has issued two reports confirming the conditions.

It has been reported that up to 70 percent of the children being held have relatives in the United States who want them, but instead of releasing them to their families, our government has chosen to hold these children in conditions amounting to physical and psychological torture, which may predictably scar them for life.

And American taxpayers are paying over $700 per child per day to inflict this suffering!

Over the past two days, after intense public pressure, most of the children have finally been moved to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, which hopefully will do a better job of caring for them and uniting them with their families.

We applaud this step. We also applaud the appropriation of $4.2 billion to alleviate the worst of the suffering, but we believe that the answer is not just more money to provide decent food and blankets or soap and toothbrushes.

The root problem here is the Trump administration’s policies of treating asylum seekers as criminals, separating children from their parents and deliberately making the conditions as miserable as possible with the goal of deterring people from crossing our border.

Until the Inspector General’s report was released this week, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security brushed the problem away as “unsubstantiated allegations” and pretended everything was fine. Just today President Trump has said that the border patrol is doing a fine job and the problem is our laws!

We have notified our elected representatives, Congressman Alex Mooney and Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelly Capito of our club’s vote of condemnation and called upon them to use the power of their positions to get this situation fixed. We are asking that they honor America on our 243rd birthday not by a showy military parade in Washington, D.C., but instead by honoring the values that this country has stood for these two-plus centuries. We have also asked that if they haven’t yet visited the border facilities, to please do so and speak out against the atrocities that are occurring; to work to restore aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras and to help solve the problems there that impel the migrants to come to the United States for refuge; and work to end the misguided policies of criminalization of asylum seekers, separation of families and misery for the sake of deterrence.

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Kathleen W. Smith, recording secretary, on behalf of the members of the Jackson County Democrat Women’s Club

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