March’s focus – Immigration
Continuing to contact our legislators to address the humanitarian crisis at the border – not the one defined by the administration, but the treatment of detainees – is imperative this month.
Contact your representatives and let them know: we expect them to monitor and address the conditions of immigrants held in detention, and that we need to ensure quality care for all immigrants, but particularly the children and pregnant women:
Rep. Paul Tonko (202) 225-5076
Rep. Elise Stefanik (202) 225-4611
Senator Chuck Schumer (202) 224-6542
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (202) 224-4451
I’d also like to share a post from Diana Bryson Barnes. Diana is a Skidmore faculty member, Saratoga Immigration Coalition member, and volunteer working with families at the border. She shared some of her experiences last week at an event at Skidmore – and the following is a story she shared on Facebook. These immigrants are who we are fighting for – and demanding that the care they are provided in our name, with our tax dollars, is not the cruel and inhumane treatment described below.
I am in a house with four other women, each from a different place in the country who have made their way to El Paso to volunteer in a shelter to lend a hand in solidarity and resistance.
The holding cells are hell on earth. An average stay there is five days. They are intolerable not only because they are deliberately freezing cold, or because there are no beds, blankets, or even space to lie down on the cold floor, or because the food served is half-frozen and the water so full of chlorine the children can’t drink it. The real kick in the gut these days is the agents’ unchecked reign of terror.
Lupita has bruises around her breasts where the agent, “la oficial” squeezed them till tears come to her eyes. She pulls up her shirt to show me. The agent who wakes the women for a regular body-check at 4 am says she wants to make sure the “migrantes” are not hiding anything under their shirts or in their underwear. Lupita is 4’11. She is from Guatemala. She and her 16-year-old daughter walked, bummed rides, and took short bus rides from Guatemala to the border. She has no possessions. Nothing but the clothes on her back. Her crotch aches from the force with which the agent grabs her every morning before day breaks in this cruel surreal space where children and parents lose themselves to the whims of the border patrol on duty. “Why? What can we hide? We are not leaving the “hielera”. We can’t get anything to hide. What would we hide in our underwear? Why? Why?” Lupita asks me. We are in the hospital at 2 am. We are waiting for her daughter to be seen. Her daughter has a spider bite she got somewhere between Guatemala and Mexico that has caused an infection under the skin. She is exhausted after five days in the holding cell. The “hielera,” or ice box, as she calls it. Everyone calls it that. We are in a children’s hospital E.R. in El Paso. The mother and daughter were released from the holding cell to a shelter where I am spending a week near the US/Mexico border. I am a volunteer and I do whatever needs to be done. Tonight I am in the E.R.
The painful and senseless strip searches are not what not what angers Lupita the most. The agent yelling at her and the other mothers with: “why are you here? We did not ask you to come. We don’t want you here. Why do you even have these children?” is not what brought on the bitter weeping even after she is safe with me in the hospital. What brings these tears is the memory of the way the agents treated a young mother with a nursing baby in the holding cell.
“They take our sweaters away. We only have light clothing so we are cold. There was a young mother with a baby, she was nursing the baby and the agent took the baby and put it on the floor and grabbed the mother’s breasts in a strip search. The baby wailed on the floor.”
Lupita begs an answer. “Why? Why?” She covers her face with her hands and rocks back and forth. “I cried bitter tears, bitter bitter tears, when I saw this treatment.” Lupita cries in the hospital recalling how the young mother had hidden her light, cotton blouse in the trash can when the agent came into the cell so the agent wouldn’t take it away; a blouse she used as a blanket to wrap her baby in because it is freezing in the cells. Lupita showed me how the mother ran to the trash can to bury her blouse when she heard the agent’s footsteps. She is tortured by this memory.
We have been in the hospital for hours. I ask a nurse if there is anywhere that Lupita and her daughter can lie down. I tell her that they have just left detention and have not slept for five days. We speak in Spanish. The nurse understands. She leads us to a room where there are reclining chairs stored. All of the rooms in the ER are full. It is a busy night. Lupita and her daughter and I push the chairbacks into a reclining position. This takes some work and laughter. They are small and slight, and it is hard to budge the chair-backs. We all laugh at this and I push the backs of the chairs down. The nurse appears with blankets that she has warmed. Warm soft blankets. The mother and daughter are grateful and cover themselves with the blankets and sleep immediately.
Later, a doctor comes in. He is young and white. He tells me that he will not make them move. He brings in a portable ultrasound machine and checks the massive hard ball that is on Lupita’s daughter’s upper thigh. He speaks to them in Spanish. He speaks pretty well but makes a lot of simple mistakes. I am appreciative that he has studied enough Spanish to speak directly to Lupita’s daughter. No abscess. Cellulitis. Antibiotics.
Five hours after we arrived we leave the ER and go over to the children’s wing where we wait for a young father and his 15-month-old son. They are from the shelter, as well. They too arrived that day and like every single other detainee, come to us sick. This baby boy has long lashes and an easy giggle. He has delicate fingers and reaches for me as I approach his dad. What a little gift. He has antibiotics for ear infections and a respiratory infection. We all leave the hospital at 3 am.
Marco, the baby’s dad, tells me that the hate he felt in the “hielera” was palpable. He said he could smell the hate, and that it ripped at his heart because the children could smell it and feel it, too.
We must know this. I don’t give un bledo what you think about immigration. I don’t give un bledo what you think about the pinche wall. What do you think about humanity?
– Diana Bryson Barnes