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Worse Than the Wall

The agencies that separate families, abuse children, and deport innocent people should be just as toxic as Trump’s wall.

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immigrant detnetion jail
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The current administration has bent over backwards to force-feed its anti-immigrant agenda to the American public. That agenda remains broadly unpopular, but they’ve tried every trick in the con artist book to impose it anyway.

Despite years of hysterical anti-immigrant propaganda, most Americans continually report positive views of immigrants and immigration in opinion surveys. Yet we’ve been faced with constant threats of government shutdowns or made-up “national emergencies” if we don’t give the administration money for a wall most of us oppose.

While politicians debate these things, real people die.

Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old, was separated from her father, kept in a cage, and died in Border Patrol custody. Felipe Gomez Alonzo, an 8-year-old, died just weeks later in custody in New Mexico.

Roxana Hernandez, a trans woman seeking asylum from Honduras, died in ICE custody last spring, with an autopsy showing signs of abuse. Thousands of migrants, in fact, have reported sexual abuse and other mistreatment in ICE and CBP custody.

When big injustice occurs, a bigger plan for resistance must follow. To be effective, we must recognize where the core of the injustice lies.

This is true of policy, too. And the inescapable conclusion is that funding for the agencies that detain, abuse, deport, and sometimes kill migrants needs to be every bit as toxic as many Democrats regard funding for the wall.

The American public recognizes this. The administration’s “zero tolerance” and family separations policies drew protests across the country and political spectrum. And despite an anti-immigrant advertising blitz by Republicans late last year, voters repudiated this brutal extremism in the midterm elections, flipping seat after seat in the House of Representatives (and a Senate seat in the border state of Arizona).

Most people understand that the wall is just a symbol, a waste of money on a fabricated crisis. But the crisis created by agencies that persecute immigrants, families, and people looking for a better life is all too real.

As funding for agencies like ICE and CBP has increased, so have deportations — chiefly among immigrants with no criminal record, according to many on-the-ground studies.

Unfortunately, Democratic leaders in Congress have kept this funding on the table in their negotiations with the administration. They’re funding agencies that accomplish in real life what the wall is supposed to do symbolically: keep out people looking for a better life.

While politicians talked, Eduardo Samaniego was deported.

At just 16, Eduardo immigrated alone to the United States to look for a better life for his family, knowing he’d have no chance to enter legally. Eduardo worked full time, enrolled himself in high school, and excelled academically. He made himself known not only because he was kind, hopeful, and spirited, but because he believed in justice and making his community a better place.

Then ICE took him.

They placed him in solitary confinement for months, which mental health professionals consider a form of torture. The boy that had seem unbreakable by life’s challenges was broken by the injustices ICE inflicted on him. It got so bad he chose to accept “voluntary departure” to Mexico.

Day after day these agencies keep taking people, families keep being separated, and people keep dying — and they’ll keep doing it if we keep funding the agencies that are responsible. 

Fortunately, a growing number of Americans are demanding strategies that actually protect families — and honor the majority of Americans who welcome their immigrant neighbors. As the last election showed, if leaders don’t catch up, they’ll be held accountable.

Karla Molinar-Arvizo is the New Mexico Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.