‘Sheer Cruelty, Racism, and Disregard’: Trump’s immigration policy is all about sowing fear and division.
An interactive digital satellite map, showing where the remains of migrants were found in Arizona’s desert terrain, is a grim reminder of the deadly toll of Trump’s anti-immigrant policies.
Click on any red dot and words such as “unknown” and “skeletal” and “decomposed” pop up on this map, produced by Humane Borders, an Arizona-based nonprofit that tracks desert deaths.
Since President Donald Trump took office in 2017, the remains of more than 500 people have been found in parts of Arizona alone. These are desperate people fleeing persecution, escaping poverty, and seeking the American dream. On July 31, the Trump Administration set out to drive this death toll even higher.
On that day, dozens of armed Border Patrol agents, accompanied by an armored vehicle, raided the humanitarian group No More Deaths’ Byrd Camp in Arizona, about twelve miles from the border. More than three dozen migrants were detained. The humanitarian group works to provide water, clothing, and other supplies along trails used by migrants crossing the border.
“They view our work as helping people complete their journey,” Paige Corich-Kleim, a spokesperson for No More Deaths, tells The Progressive. “We see it as preventing them from dying and suffering.”
Trump inherited an immigration system geared toward deportation, but he has fueled it with a ruthless mix of xenophobic racism and misuse of executive powers.
The last four years have amounted to a frontal attack on the principles of immigration. Trump started with a discriminatory travel ban that targeted Muslim-majority countries. He has all but closed the doors to refugees and asylum seekers, while putting up obstacles to other avenues of immigration.
Under Trump’s policy of family separation, at least 5,400 children have been torn from their parents, and countless other immigrant families have seen beloved members deported. The number in detention in inhumane conditions has fallen in recent months largely because Trump has closed the nation’s borders to asylum seekers, using COVID-19 as an excuse.
“The system has always had problems, but the sheer cruelty, racism, and disregard for human life that the Trump Administration’s policies have reflected are really unprecedented,” says Sirine Shebaya, executive director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild.
Trump’s fear-mongering—maligning immigrants as criminals and a drain on the economy—has put anyone who does not fit into his vision of a white America at risk.
“If you are Latino, you are subjected to immigration enforcement and white supremacy attacks,” says Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso, Texas.
On August 3, 2019, at a Walmart store in El Paso, a gunman shot dozens of people, killing twenty-three. “This attack,” the gunman wrote in a document he posted on the Internet, “is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Under Trump’s detain-and-deport mindset, the number of immigrants locked up in deplorable conditions in more than 200 facilities ballooned from a daily average of 34,376 in fiscal year 2016 to a daily average of 50,165 in fiscal year 2019.
The nation’s detainee population has since dropped to about 20,000, after Trump closed the borders to “nonessential traffic,” purportedly in response to COVID-19. But as Maura, a twenty-year-old asylum seeker from Guatemala, can attest, detention continues to be a life-threatening experience.
Maura has spent the last seven months at the El Paso Service Processing Center, where 181 detainees had tested positive for coronavirus as of late August. In a recent telephone interview, she describes the failure of officials there to diagnose her COVID-19 symptoms in mid-June.
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