Last week, in a webinar on “Demanding Accountability for Separated Families,” the Latinx Accountability Project brought together four leading analysts and activists on immigration issues at and beyond the US-México border. Alvaro Bedoya from the Georgetown Law Privacy Center moderated the discussion, and we’ve excerpted here from his exchanges with Congresswoman Veronica Escobar from El Paso, CBS and Univision contributor Maria Elena Salinas, Jess Morales Rocketto of Families Belong Together, and Erika Ardiola of the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, RAICES.
Alvaro Bedoya: Those responsible for splitting families apart at the border must be accountable for those inhuman policies. How can that happen?
Rep. Escobar: Today I saw Chad Wolf, head of Homeland Security under Trump, quoted in the Washington Post as if he is a credible and respectable source. The media must stop giving a platform to people who have put in place what are in effect criminal policies! If other countries were ripping children from their parents, with no thought of how to ever reunite them, the US would be calling it a human rights violation. Criminal charges would be the most just, but that’s not going to happen. But Congress can at least conduct hearings to get evidence as to who were responsible.
Jess Morales Rocketto: Family separation is nothing new. One of my own family was grabbed and deported during Operation Wetback in 1954, when over a million Mexicanos were swept up and out. News sources report on migration issues as if there were two “balanced” sides, Democrat and Republican. Rather than a focus on Party politics, they should be reporting and discussing the actual issue.
AB: How do we avoid the dehumanization of migrants?
Maria Elena Salinas: Having worked at CBS, I know that the mainstream media doesn’t cover the same stories as the Latinx media. And yes, instead of striving for “balance,” the stress should be on facts — and context. People’s stories don’t begin at the border! I did a series that showed how people had been first “abandoned” by their home countries and then “rejected” by the country they hoped would provide asylum. What are the root causes of migration? That’s not covered.
AB: Let me add that there’s an important difference between “illegal” and “undocumented.” The undocumented have rights — for example, for children to go to school . . . What can be done about the substandard facilities in which migrants are held?
JMR: Detention companies get paid for “heads in beds.” That incentivizes packing the facilities. The privatization of detention centers parallels prison privatization, leading to terrible conditions — and blacks are hit the hardest in both cases. Haitians suffer the highest amount of abuse in detention centers, and blacks fare the worst in prisons. You ask what’s the alternative? Anything would be better!
Erika Ardiola: The system aims to protect the US against supposed threats from those coming in, not to protect the migrants. They send in Rambo when it’s Mother Teresa that’s needed!
AB: Why wasn’t Biden ready to handle the migrant crisis?
EA: Kids must be taken immediately out of Customs and Border Protection, where they are put in what detainees call hieleras for coolers and perreras for dog kennels.
MES: Biden has dual tasks: to remedy past failures and to deal with new arrivals. After only 60 days in office, should we give him the benefit of the doubt? He’s getting hit from the left and the right, and, to his credit, he is listening more to the left. But he must give the press access to see how families are being treated. The main thing now is that he must act with full transparency.