On Aug. 13, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick visited migrant detention facilities on the southern border with a bipartisan Congressional delegation. After his trip, Fitzpatrick reported that there was indeed “incredible overcrowding, but not mistreatment.” “We spoke to several children and adults,” he stated, “and they said they were being treated well.”
On the same trip, however, U.S. Rep. Josh Harder, D-California 10th District, identified the situation at the border as “heart-wrenching,” and “humanitarian crisis of our own making,” “a lot of kids are still in cages,” he described, “and it’s still overcrowded and inhumane.”
Weeks earlier, the Office of Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security issued a report diagnosing the situation on the southern border as, “an acute and worsening crisis.”
And on July 1, Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4, reported on her own visit to two border patrol stations in Texas, as part of a trip organized by House Democrats and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “The detainees are constantly abused and verbally harassed, deprived physically and dehumanized every day. This is a human rights issue,” she tweeted.
Twenty-four people have died in ICE custody under the Trump administration to date, including at least seven children. Several more people have died after being released from custody, and still others have died in the custody of other federal agencies. These are people who have fled gang violence, corruption, state collapse, and war. Instead, they died on our watch.
As a mother and an American, I am horrified and heartbroken. With or without a trip to the border, Fitzpatrick should have been able to recognize and condemn this mistreatment and injustice.
Fitzpatrick’s visit came a day after a new Pew Research Center survey found the American public is broadly critical of the Trump administration’s handling of the wave of migrants at the southern border. As of Aug. 21, the administration has increased tensions by announcing a new policy that allows families — including children — to be detained indefinitely.
Our congressman’s words concern me because they lack a human understanding of the situation at hand. Severe overcrowding is a health and safety risk, especially as people are held in cages for days at a time, frequently exceeding the 72-hour window permitted by the standards that govern Customs and Border Protection interaction with detained individuals.
Even more concerning, Congressman Fitzpatrick’s “no” vote on the recent bill to raise health and hygiene standards in CBP facilities demonstrates that party lines matter more to him than the lives of children and those fleeing violence.
If our government treats South and Central American asylum seekers as criminals and refuses them humane and sanitary standards while in custody, it reinforces the idea that these are people to be feared and rejected. Let us never forget: Our immigrant communities have always made America stronger. If we lose our capacity for human empathy and succumb to fear and division, we sacrifice not only our nation’s values, but also our potential.
When we fail people — especially children — who come here seeking shelter, we fail as parents, as Americans, and as the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of immigrants ourselves. We all have a duty to recognize the harsh reality of this situation and work together toward humane immigration solutions.
Yardley resident Debbie Wachspress is a Democratic candidate for the 1st District of Congress.
Photo courtesy of OIG: Overcrowding of families observed by OIG on June 11, 2019 at Border Patrol’s Weslaco, TX, Station.