Where is the international outcry in response to reports that asylum seekers, among them children and newborns, are being crammed tightly into detention centres on America’s southern border without basic facilities? Does American exceptionalism extend to treating 2,500 human beings worse than animals with impunity?
Just imagine the global furore were another less powerful country to detain innocents in ‘standing room only’ cells without blankets, soap, toothbrushes or hot meals. What would the reaction be if, say, an Arab state forcibly separated thousands of parents from weeping toddlers or snatched newborns from their mother’s arms?
The UN Working Group has slammed Australia for detaining migrants in inhumane conditions on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and has leant heavily on Libya to close migrant camps where at the very least detainees sleep on mattresses. In the case of the US, the United Nations has politely asked for access to border facilities, a request that was turned down. So that’s that then!
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has come under fire for likening America’s detention centres to ‘Concentration camps’. Former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich has termed her “Vicious, cruel, dishonest and determined to destroy the America we know”. In reality, the America the rest of us knows is a country made up of immigrants who fled hardships, a safe harbour symbolised by Lady Liberty whose plaque reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.
It begs belief that detained children are seen as criminals when they were given no choice in the matter and in many cases are being subjected to worse conditions than the inmates of high security prisons and even Guantanamo.
Technically they are concentration camps according to the Cambridge Dictionary’s definition which reads “a place where large numbers of people are kept as prisoners in extremely bad conditions especially for political reasons …”
Indeed, politics does play a big role in their detention and the disgusting conditions they are forced to endure for three reasons. President Trump wants to twist lawmakers’ arms to change what he sees as lax asylum laws and believes locking up migrants in unsanitary conditions acts as a deterrent to others. Thirdly, cracking down on migrants plays to his largely anti-immigrant base whose uncompassionate stances are echoed by Trump’s go-to cable network Fox News.
Brian Kilmeade, a host of ‘Fox and Friends’ was criticised for saying, “Like it or not, these are not our kids. Show them compassion but it’s not like he is doing this to the people of Idaho or Texas. These are people from another country, and now people are saying that they’re more important than people in our country who are paying taxes and who have needs as well.”
Whereas many if not most of us would view his words as being callous in the extreme, I was stunned and angered to read posts made by Fox News viewers while watching a live Fox News feed on this topic. “Not our children” was a common remark. “Why should US taxpayers foot the bill for soap and toothpaste?” “Those kids are here illegally”.
It begs belief that detained children are seen as criminals when they were given no choice in the matter and in many cases are being subjected to worse conditions than the inmates of high security prisons and even Guantanamo. Worse, donations of care packages, bedding and clothes from concerned individuals and charities are banned.
Lawyers, who visited a border station in Clint, Texas, described toddlers without diapers being cared for by children aged seven or eight “many wearing clothes caked with snot and tears”. Most hadn’t been given access to showers or a change of clothes. Many of the youngsters were sick and were not being treated, they said. The few visitors ‘lucky enough’ to get access are barred from speaking to the kids. Paediatricians have volunteered to help but have been turned away.
Those traumatised children have no voice to the outside world but if pictures are worth a thousand words, theirs speak volumes. Drawn by kids aged 10 and 11 who were released to a Catholic Charity following their detention, they depict children and infants behind bars. How many will carry the trauma of their separation and their incarceration for the rest of their lives I wonder!
A substantial number of these children have family members in the US. Many of the older ones have telephone numbers or addresses of relatives but with few exceptions there has been no effort to reunite them.
While I can understand the administration’s concerns that the country is being flooded with waves of would-be immigrants, cruelty cannot be the solution for the world’s richest nation that has always claimed to be a bastion of freedom and human rights. Surely a better option would be to aid their homelands to become places of opportunity where people can live in security.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.