Christmas 2018 was one of the best Christmas’ I’ve had in recent history. This was the Christmas I met my Great Grandson Harlem Xavier Rush, who immediately took permanent residence in the most sacred space of my heart.
Christmas 2018 was also a very disturbing one. On Christmas Eve, eight-year old Felipe Alonzo Gomez, a refugee from Guatemala, died in the custody of US Custom and Border Protection. An autopsy performed on Felipe confirmed he died from the flu. According to Dr. Flor Munoz, an associated professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, because this is flu season, if a patient shows respiratory symptoms and fever, flu should be the first thing medical personnel should look for. Dr. Munoz believes Felipe’s death was preventable.
Felipe and his father traveled over two-thousand miles from the village Nenton, west of Guatemala City, seeking to settle in Tennessee. They were apprehended on December 18th for illegal entry in El Paso, Texas.
Felipe was reported to have been held in Border Patrol custody for more than 6 days, which is double the 72-hours allowed according to the Border Patrol’s own standards. Carlos Holguin, General Counsel for the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law, represented migrant children in a lawsuit that imposed those legal limits.
He is the second child to die in the custody of The Border Patrols El Paso sector in December. Seven-year old Jakelin Caal Maquin, also traveling with her father from rural Guatemala, died on December 8th. She was part of a group of 162 people, who surrendered to agents near Camp Bounds, a base along the New Mexico border.
According to Houston Chronicles reporter, Lomi Kriel, as of November 2018, 14,030 immigrant children are in shelters across the country, seeking asylum. Because of a new Trump administrations requirement, that all adults in a household seeking to care for an immigrant child must submit to a background check, and the information will be shared with homeland security, parents and family members are afraid to claim their children, forcing them to remain in government care. Many of these children are suffering from anxiety, depression and post-stress disorder according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Representative Pramila Jayapal, from the state of Washington, said, “Trump’s immigration policies are about two things, profits and politics. Politics, because they are manufacturing a fake border crisis. Profit, because private prisons are making millions locking people up in sub-standard conditions.”
The truth is, unauthorized immigration is at its lowest level in ten years. Most immigration violations are not from people illegally crossing borders, but from people, who over stay visas. The biggest illegal border crossing is not our southern border, but at the US northern border and from people coming in from Canada.
Before 1921, the only immigration laws that existed in the United States restricted immigration from China, prostitutes, people with contagious diseases, and the insane from immigrating. Almost anyone who arrived here was allowed into the US with just a physical exam. In 1921 and again in 1924 quotas were established based on race and nationality, heavily favoring Western Europe.
In 1965 the National Origin Quota System was replaced with immigrants admitted on the basis of being an immediate family member of an American citizen or having an employer relationship. The last immigration overhaul was done in 1990 and mainly focused on employment visas.
During a visit to the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, AL last November the toughest parts of observing the cruel history of slavery was the horror of family separation. “About one-third of enslaved children in the upper South experienced separation by either being sold themselves or from losing a mother, father or sibling,” said Heather Andrea Williams, professor of Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
After the Civil War, thousands of freed African-Americans placed ads in Black newspapers across the South in search of family members. Information wanted ads, letters, and narratives of enslaved people detail the trauma of family separation. Generations later Black people, descendants of slavery are still experiencing the effects of forced separation.
Citizens of this country need to be honest about who we are, be willing to face our ugly history, and demand better of our political leaders. The disregard for the lives of the indigenous people of America, to the enslavement of African people, to the separation of these young refugee children demonstrates the disregard for human life of people who don’t like look like white America.
As I celebrated seeing my GG for the first time in person, I couldn’t help but weep for the families of Felipe and Jakelin, two innocent children whose only crime was accompanying parents, who were seeking better lives for their children. These parents had the same desires, millions of other immigrants had, to come to a place, where their children could prosper and live safe from a life of poverty and danger.
I believe we are better than this. I believe the majority of people in this country believe in the ideal of the US as a melting pot. I believe we agree with “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” The Statue of Liberty