Chaos and Cruelty for Immigrants Held in Brownsville, Texas

In the federal courthouse in Brownsville, in the space of 75 minutes, 63 people were read their charges, asked to plead guilty or not guilty, and sentenced. Handcuffed and chained at the waist, they had to stoop to raise their right hands.

All this for a misdemeanor: entry without inspection.

The 63 men and women shared the same lone public defender. When they spoke, they spoke in timid whispers, nearly inaudible except to the translators. Eleven said they would happily be deported if they could be reunited with their children. The judge said it is “U.S. policy that once you are finished here, you’ll be reunited with your children.”

Because there is no communication between the Customs and Border Protection agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services, no one can tell me – nor the members of Congress who were with me –what the plan is for reuniting parents and children.

The visit to the courthouse on Monday was one stop among many for a congressional delegation that included six members of Congress from Texas, New Mexico, Florida, and Mississippi who had come to the Lower Rio Grande Valley to learn more about the impact of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy and the willfully engineered humanitarian crisis it has wrought. I had been asked to join them by their host, Rep. Filemon Vela of Brownsville, Texas.

For their visit, the Congressional delegation toured a Border Patrol detention center and two non-profit shelters. It was clearly hard for them to recount what they had seen from the visit. Their words came in halting bursts. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico started to describe how he had to leave the shelter because it was too emotional for him. But he was unable to bring himself to finish.

Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston told of two 17-year-olds who had given birth in the shelter. When these young mothers turn 18, they will be moved to the adult criminal authorities and their babies will remain in the shelter. Lee and Castro were moved to tears.

After I left them, I walked the bridges of Brownsville and saw the lines of desperate migrants subjecting themselves to the sorts of indignities and inhumanities you would only suffer if it meant you could keep your children safe. 

I talked to two Border Patrol agents standing under a 10-foot awning, just feet from a Colombian woman named Claudia and her four-year-old son Nicholas who were fleeing domestic violence in their home country. Like every other asylum seeker, she had been told that she and Nicholas would not be separated if she entered “the legal way.” But the “legal way” was closed to them for now, the Border Patrol agents claimed, because the port of entry was “at capacity.” She had been there, sitting on the hard cement on the Mexican side of the border, for seven hours. Even with storm clouds looming overhead, she was determined to remain. 

I talked to a Border Patrol supervisor in an empty processing room — the one allegedly at capacity — where Claudia and Nicholas could not be processed. He refused to answer any of my questions. 

As I was lining up to board my flight home to Houston, I saw a grandfather, traveling with his two grandchildren, who was separated from them because their boarding numbers were not consecutive. A gate agent said he would pre-board them so they would be together. The woman behind me said, “wasn’t that nice. Families shouldn’t be separated.” 

No, they shouldn’t. I’m relieved the pressure of a nation has convinced this administration to change the family separation policy. But entire families should not end up in lockups for a mere misdemeanor. 

Trump's Family Separation Crisis: How to Help

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Anonymous

Did you tell Claudia that we know longer give asylums for domestic violence? She'd be better off applying in Mexico.

Anonymous

If it is proven that these Agencies have not kept proper records that allow the children to be returned to their families then those in charge should not only be fired but also prosecuted for negligence!

Anonymous

Why didn't these people ask Mexico for asylum?

Anonymous

What do we do NOW? How can we help REUNITE the families?

Mary Shelkey

Please, please, please keep fighting for these children. There are atrocities that we don't even know about. How many girls have been molested or disappeared? We don't know. Please,please, please do not give up. Dr. Mary Shelkey, Lynnwood WA

Dr. Timothy Leary

The days are gone when you could just ride your burro over the border and get a taco a Jack-In-The-Box. Don't people understand that ?

Anonymous

I guess not,but they will .

Jean M. Coen

So tell me, when the illegal immigrant happens to be from a European country and comes here on a student and/or worker visa and they allow it to expire... are you as worried about them remaining here? Or is it just the brown immigrants? Because it seems that the only concern is for those who enter here and take the jobs that most US citizens don't work. There is good reporting on the wasted crops that are not being picked within the United States at this time. Sad that we "assume" the only illegals are "riding burros" over the southern border. And its too bad that we can't collectively be concerned over "why" they would be coming here in the first place. Maybe because the US creates a great market for illicit drugs because our country does nothing to deal with addiction or reduction in dependency to narcotics that our private sector makes a great deal of money off of? You even come close to sensing the disparaging difference there... Connecting any dots for you? I am just wondering. Because it seems that your concern is only to make racially charged innuendos against an ethnic group.

Dr. Timothy Leary

Come on Jean, don't be such a sourpuss.

Anonymous

Jean, when Europeans came here in verwhelming numbers or brought criminal organizations with them there was a backlash. It happened with the Irish and Italians. In some areas where the Russian Mafia has gained a foothold it's happening now and Russians are white. It's the sheer numbers and associations with criminal gangs that cause the backlash - not skin color. Besides, a Western European that overstays a student vida will more than likely self-deport in a few years. Why would someone want to live in poverty as an illegal here when they can go back to their comfortable European Country and have a good standard of living?

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