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Your Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free

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What is life like inside the immigrant detention centers the U.S. has set up to house the thousands of migrants fleeing Central American gang and drug violence?

I went down to Artesia, New Mexico last week to see for myself what has become of these vulnerable families. What I found brought me to tears. Mothers and their children are being hidden away, held in inappropriate detention facilities without access to adequate services, medical care, or legal counsel. And they are being deported in the middle of the night without warning and without the opportunity to a fair hearing.

I was able to speak first-hand with several of the moms, all who shared their feelings of anxiety and hopelessness. I could see the fear and desperation in their eyes. Many of the moms are young and some have been recently widowed, with painful stories of domestic abuse and wide-spread violence driven by drug cartels and gangs. Their stories reflect what the research has consistently documented: increasing rates of gender-based violence in Central America, where rape is now a common fate for women and girls as young as 8-years-old. In fact, in Honduras, gender-based violence is now the second highest cause of death for women of reproductive age. And yes, while these mothers themselves were targets of violence in their home communities, what ultimately drove these mothers to flee was not their own safety. They were fleeing for the sake of their children, many of whom were just too little to make the journey on their own.

One mother, Carla, told me her story while weeping, her two-year old daughter wiping her mother’s tears with visible concern on her round face. Carla fled Guatemala City after her husband was murdered. Once apprehended by Border Patrol, she and her daughter were held in a freezing, crowded cell and she was denied a blanket for her daughter. Carla had to remove her own t-shirt just to try to keep her daughter warm. She suffered the same conditions when she was transferred to Arizona, where officers laughed and insulted both her and her daughter, calling them “poor” and other names. When we met, Carla told me that her daughter had been suffering from severe diarrhea for more than five days, and that the doctor insisted she just keep giving her more water. In fact, all of the mothers I spoke to informed me that their children were suffering from some sort of dietary issue, whether it was diarrhea, not eating, or losing weight. I was told over and over again, “there is no medicine here, just water.” Carla said she had to beg for more than 24 hours just to get a diaper for her daughter.

These are basically inhuman conditions and are the official American response to a refugee crisis. If we aren’t going to allow people into our nation escaping horrifying violence, then what do our values mean? And then even if we aren’t sure we are going to allow them into our nation, is it that hard for a nation this wealthy to provide humane conditions while we figure out what to do? The answer to that question of course is no, it is not that hard. We could obviously provide diapers for babies. And we don’t.

….On how U.S. policies have made the Central American crisis much worse.

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