The latest sequence shot in the political and media scene about the American migration crisis started last Monday with the publication of a picture of a Salvadoran father and his daughter found dead on the bank of the Rio Grande as they drowned trying to cross the border. This symbolic picture necessarily reminds one of another, the body of a Syrian boy found in September 2015 in the Bodrum beach resort in Turkey.
The scene continued later this week, when Democratic legislators visited overcrowded immigration detention centers in El Paso and Clint, Texas. They returned from that visit nauseated, describing “appalling and disgusting” living conditions and cells where women had to “drink out of toilet bowls.”
The visit was accompanied by revelations from the news site ProPublica, claiming numerous agents and ex-agents from the U.S. Border Patrol are part of a secret Facebook group who exchanged bad jokes, and racist and misogynistic rants about immigrants and Democrats opposed to Trump’s policies. Not too edifying indeed. By definition, immigration agents on duty are not known for their sensitivity to human rights. Nevertheless, the news reveals the permission that Trump gives to dehumanizing migrants, The New York Times explained. It is, in fact, a symptom of the increasingly toxic climate instilled by this president in the whole of American society.
The shot finished on Tuesday, with the publication of a report from a Department of Homeland Security inspector, based on visits to five detention centers also located in Texas. The report is alarming: it confirms that the overpopulation, extended detention and lack of safety in those centers create an unbearable situation. It finds an “immediate risk” for detained migrants and agents alike. Unaccompanied minors under seven were being detained for more than two weeks without showers or a hot meal, when they should have been returned to their parents or processed by a governmental agency within 72 hours.
Other sequence-shots will come that will continue to expose the drama and other problems but which will not lead the government to find solutions other than trying dissuade and repress immigration.
Somewhere between emotion and partisanship, Trump bothered to express his concern over the death of the father and his daughter – and then rejected all responsibility for the “open borders” allegedly encouraged by Democrats. He regards the report as being too excessive, and reacted with in his usual irresponsible way, declaring that migrants live “far better now than where they came from, and in far safer conditions.” As if the misery and insecurity that Hondurans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans are running away from justified poor detention conditions in one of the richest countries in the world. As if his migration policy, centered on an obsession with a wall, could improve the democratic and economic conditions of countries in Central America.
Not that Democrats, from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama, lack responsibility for the detrimental way things have evolved on the complicated subject that is illegal immigration. But it just so happens that right now, the U.S. faces a massive influx of immigrants, and for a year, the White House has been responding with a zero tolerance policy consisting of imprisonment and denying immigrants their rights. It wasn’t very hard to imagine that the consequence would be the extreme overpopulation of detention centers that is now occurring.
Under these circumstances, Trump chose to militarize the border situation on July 4, organizing a very different celebration than Americans are used to, with tanks and F-35 fighter jets. Choosing not to observe a traditionally patriotic and nonpartisan national holiday, the president delivered a speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial Thursday evening, another unprecedented action that rubbed people the wrong way, and which featured the obligatory self-congratulating campaign rhetoric. Because, like everything else, Trump’s sense of celebration is self-serving.