Wednesday, July 30, 2014

“The Worst Experience of His Life”

The mainstream media are not telling you the full story about the current immigration crisis.  Coverage of Tuesday’s immigration hearing provides a dramatic example.

It’s almost impossible for your heart not to go out to some of the kids now caught in our nation’s political tug-of-war over immigration policy.  There’s not one of them who doesn’t have a very sad, touching story to tell.

But even so, don’t believe everything you’re hearing in the mainstream media about the crisis.  You’re not getting the full story.  Coverage—or lack thereof—of Tuesday’s Democratic Progressive Caucus hearing on the current immigration crisis provides a stunning example.  For one thing, even though the event gave us a rare opportunity to hear directly from some of the children themselves, coverage of this hearing has been hard to come by.  And not all of those who did cover it offered the full picture of what went on.

U.S. Rep Raúl Grijalva (C-SPAN)
Arizona’s own Raúl Grijalva (D-Tucson) convened the hearing, which trotted out three young immigrants who crossed over as unaccompanied minors.  The first was 15 year old Dulce Medina, who left Guatemala when she was 10.  Speaking in English, Dulce told the panel that she had to walk 30 minutes to school each day, and on occasion during this walk she witnessed people fighting.  She said she feared gang violence, but did not testify that she was involved in any.  Dulce said she once saw a woman get shot in the chest, but no one was ever arrested for the attempted murder.  One day a man tried to sexually assault her and her sister, she said.  They escaped unharmed, but the relatives with whom she was living didn’t believe her story and beat her on the back with a belt.  At this point, her mother, who was living in the U.S., sent for her.  A judge later granted Dulce a green card.

Next was 12 year old Mayeli Hernandez, who exited Honduras one year ago.  She teared up as she recounted how her mother had left her behind at the age of 8 to go to the United States “so that we could have a better life.”  Mayeli said she witnessed two homicides, and left for the United States last year because she feared the violence.  But she also said that the relatives with whom she was living told her that they could no longer care for her. 

According to Rep. Grijalva, Mayeli is angry.  But her anger is not directed at her native country, the relatives who kicked her out, or those committing violence there.  In Grijalva’s words, shortly after Mayeli and her sister crossed the border, “The girls were detained in freezing cold holding cells for four days without any bed or blanket [which is not precisely true—see below].  She was very concerned about her little sister’s health because she was shivering the whole time.  It was so cold that her lips went blue.  She barely slept for four days straight and was only given two sandwiches per day.”  Grijalva went on to say, “She is still angry at how she and her little sister were treated by the United States government.” 

Mayeli reserved a large portion of her testimony to confirmation of those details.  Her journey to the United States was “a grand adventure,” she said through a translator.  “The food was good and we were treated like people.”  But when she crossed the border, the adventure turned into an ordeal.  “But when I suffered a lot was when we crossed the river,” she said, “and police took us into freezing cold police stations.  In there, people had to sleep on the floor and they only gave us a thin nylon blanket.  There wasn’t enough food.  They only gave us two sandwiches a day.”

You heard right.  Human smugglers, good.  U.S. government, bad.

The next witness, 15 year old Saul Martinez, went even further in his criticism of the country in which he’s desperate to remain.

Saul left El Salvador three months ago.  Once when he rode his bike through a certain neighborhood there, a gang member told him that if he did it again, he’d be killed.  Relatives advised him to avoid certain gang members in school, lest they ask him to join the gang.  So Saul avoided them.  He once came across a man he knew bleeding to death from gunshot wounds in his neighborhood.

But even though Saul cited all this as his reasons for leaving, none of these incidents was the worst thing ever to happen to him.  Would you care to guess what his worst experience in life has been to date?

From Rep. Grijalava’s introductory remarks:  “Saul suffered significantly in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol.”  Grijalva said the Border Patrol held the boy in a “freezing cell” for six days without a blanket (again, not precisely true) or enough food.  Grijalva said the boy described his time in the cell as “the worst experience of his life.”

Like Mayeli, Saul devoted a significant amount of his testimony to complaints about his detention.  “I was shivering the whole time,” he said through a translator.  “They gave us a nylon [blanket] which barely even kept us warm.”  Saul complained that all he got was a cold ham sandwich twice a day, which he said left him hungry.  And he confirmed Rep. Grijalva’s statement.  “I felt very mistreated.  My time in the ice boxes was the worst experience of my life.  I hardly slept for six days.”  He closed by imploring, “Please don't mistreat children the way your government has treated me.”

I’m tempted at this point to shake my head and say, “Unbelievable.”  But in fact, Saul’s testimony is very believable.  I totally accept that his six-day detention at the hands of Border Patrol was the worst experience of his life.  And that is precisely why I’m ready to send him back to his native country.

The stories the children told about violence were troubling.  But they do not strike my ears as being radically different from the kinds of stories many American children now living in certain troubled neighborhoods of our country could tell today.  The tales may strike you differently; click this link to listen to the hearing for yourself.  But one thing is clear.  In each case, the parents had left for the United States, leaving their kids behind in the care of relatives.  The simple desire to be reunited with their children, not the threat of gang warfare, was the driving force here, no doubt combined with the sudden realization that children from Central America get special treatment under U.S. law.

For the most part, the media continue to report flatly and uncritically that this is a “refugee crisis” driven by “violence.”  The truth is more complicated.  Primarily, it’s about poverty.  The parents left these kids behind for the purpose of seeking opportunity.  We as a nation invited them to do so, making the trip worth their while by providing jobs (albeit illegally).  Now the parents want their kids back and feel the time is right to make it happen.  It’s as simple as that.

Without a doubt, each of these three children deserves a better life.  And it appears they’ll get it.  Dulce already has a green card, Mayeli is close to getting legal status, and Saul’s lawyer told the Star that it’s likely he’ll win his case, too.  It might seem churlish to point out at this juncture that all three of these foreign nationals are now getting an education courtesy of U.S. taxpayers in their communities.  But it’s a fact that public resources are limited, while the supply of immigrants who want to come here isn’t.  And this leads to an obvious and very reasonable question:  how much of a burden is it fair to ask the U.S. taxpayer to shoulder, especially in light of the fact that we have our own problems?  There are millions of foreign kids out there with similar stories, and every one of them is equally deserving.  Where do you draw the line?  And how?

As someone with middle-of-the-road views on this issue, I feel there has to be a middle way between doing nothing and doing it all.  It’s not fair to ask the U.S. taxpayer to support other countries’ populations.  Nor is this fair to other immigrants who’ve followed the rules and have come here legally, as two callers to my show on PowerTalk 1210 pointed out today.  Both callers are the children of immigrants who worked hard and sacrificed to come here legally.  Letting others ignore the rules makes those who follow them into chumps.

With these three cases, I’m not hearing any story so compelling as to convince me that the families in question had a right to shoulder their way through the line, past others who are trying to follow U.S. immigration law.  That’s just me.  You may disagree.  But the point is, we have already decided as a nation what the immigration limits should be.  Those limits are encoded in law—the law that undocumented immigrants and their domestic open-border champions are now trampling.  If we need to change those laws, by all means, let’s do so, together, in the spirit of compromise.  If we need to say that flight from poverty should be a reason to provide special exception to immigrants, let’s make that decision, too.  Together. 

But that’s not what we’re doing.  Instead, the current administration is unilaterally dictating its own immigration policy through a combination of executive fiat and incompetence, while at the same time withholding key facts from the public.  The government “failed” to foresee the absolutely predictable consequences of increasingly lax enforcement, and was totally unprepared to deal with the current wave of immigrants.  That led to the new catch-and-put-on-a-bus-into-the-interior program for undocumented women with children.  And it also led to the cramped, cold detention centers for unaccompanied minors about which Mayeli and Saul complained so bitterly.  (Memo to Border Patrol:  For the love of God, turn up the damned thermostat.)

The National Journal, one of the few journalism websites I could find that wrote about this hearing, used this headline:  “The Border Crisis Takes a Pause from Politics.”  Really?  Make no mistake; this was all about politics.  To hear that these kids were “angry” at us for their “mistreatment” and for providing the “worst experience” of their lives makes me see very red.  It never fails to astound me the extent to which others in the world, allied with some of our own politicians, are willing to presume on the generosity of the American people, urinating on our shoes while thrusting their hands into our pockets.  After we rescued these kids from the desert, placed them with their families, signed them up for a free public education, and put them on the track for a better life, they get to slam us for not having been even more welcoming?  Incredible. 

But I don’t blame the children.  It’s impossible to believe that their testimony was not coached, or that this was not intended as an attack on the Border Patrol in a political attempt to further undermine its already weak enforcement efforts.  It’s very sad that the children are caught in the middle of all this.

But in a sense, we all are.  And we’ll continue to be until, and unless, we get our national act together on immigration policy and enforcement.

Meanwhile, when you read or hear in the news that these are all “refugees” and that they’re “fleeing violence,” don’t take that at face value.  Look more closely, and then make up your own mind.


©2014 by Forrest Carr.  All rights reserved.

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