Most days, all we could see of the deportees who were being forced onto planes bound for Central America was their feet shuffling in chains. But occasionally the buses and fuel trucks that were parked in a manner to obstruct our view were not carefully aligned, and we got a clear view of the adults and children. Sometimes the shades on the plane were not closed, and we could see faces looking out at their last view of our country.
On any day, we could go across the border into the camp where children would be playing with sticks and balls just like children everywhere. Parents would be sweeping the dirt outside their tents and tidying up. Some people would be cooking on wood stoves they had built out of mud or tubs from old washing machines. People would be passing the time.
When we crossed back into the United States, there were never more than three people in line ahead of us waiting to present U.S. passports. People from Mexico, who have permits to cross every day in order to work or go to school, have to wait for hours in their own line. We regularly saw paramedics tending to people who succumbed to the heat while waiting.
If we went into the tent courts, we could watch as judges who were miles away conducted hearings via closed circuit television. They were so polite we could almost believe that the asylum seekers had a reasonable chance of winning their cases. But they didn’t. Almost no one ever gets asylum in these courts, by design.
It is generally thought that people from Cuba and Venezuela have an easier time getting asylum than people from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The reason doesn’t seem to be that they are at greater risk and therefore more deserving of asylum. Rather, it seems that our international politics and relationships dictate how lenient we are with people trying to flee their countries. The Cubans and Venezuelans also seem to be more likely to have enough money to hire lawyers, which makes a huge difference.
Lawyers tell us that detainees are being moved inland from American detention facilities that are near the border, presumably so that there will be room to detain more people near the border. This might happen if Mexico decides not to continue to allow the U.S. to warehouse immigrants there, if Central American countries stop letting us dump people there, or if the coronavirus keeps the detention camps in Mexico from being viable.
There is almost no medical care of any sort in the camps and little in the surrounding communities, so an outbreak of COVID-19 could be catastrophic. The organization that has been bringing in volunteers from around the country has asked people who are not locals not to come anymore as a precaution against their carrying the virus into the camps. There is no indication that our government would relax its policies and let stricken people come across in order to be treated in U.S. hospitals. The situation is grim.
I learned a great deal during my recent three-week stay on the border. Along with other volunteers, we were able to help people who came to witness how our country’s policies are being implemented and how they are affecting people. We also helped reporters understand what they had come to investigate. We made sure immigration officials knew we were watching. We supported local relief and advocacy efforts. And now I am home, ready to do what I can to keep this issue in the public’s awareness.
Because of the coronavirus situation, it is unclear what form our witnessing will take in the coming days and weeks, but we will find a way to move forward together. Thanks to everyone who has supported these efforts in so many ways.
Peaceful Communities, Inc