by Mark Redwine
Back in March, when I wrote my last article, I was much younger and excitedly expecting our new administration to snap its fingers or wave a magic wand, and instantly materialize a new immigration system that would be fair and compassionate for all. At first, the immigration changes (especially those concerning asylum seekers) appeared to be all unicorns and rainbows. But reality raised its ugly head, and my illusions and hopes were flung to the ground. It is funny how disappointment can age you.
When the MPP policy (Remain in Mexico) was terminated, and the squalid camp in Matamoros, where asylum seekers had been living for two years, was closed, it was like Heaven opened up. I could swear that I heard angel choirs singing Hallelujah. That day marked the end of denying asylum seekers any chance of having a fair hearing, and it marked the day they were allowed to have their cases heard in the United States.
I had been helping my friends in the camp to stay alive since the camp was formed almost three years ago. I was able to greet many of them at the Brownsville bus station where they prepared to continue their journey and quest for better lives. I celebrate their lives and at the same time, mourn those who lost their lives at the camp.
Then, mothers with children seven years old and younger were allowed to pass to the bus station. My heart soared when I saw all of the mamas and kids being allowed into the USA, to be safe here and have a chance at a decent life. Then I asked myself why there were no dads or older children arriving with the families.
Then I found the beast that devours the hopes, shatters dreams and takes the lives of Asylum Seekers. Its name is Title 42.
On March 20, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an emergency regulation to implement a specific aspect of US health law. Section 265 of US Code Title 42 permits the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to “prohibit…the introduction” into the USA of individuals when the director believes that “there is serious danger of the introduction of [a communicable disease] into the United States.” The rule allows any customs officers—which includes officers of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) such as Border Patrol agents—to implement any such order issued by the CDC. (from: the “American Immigration Council, A Guide to Title 42 Expulsions at the Border,” page 1.)
Simply put, Title 42 to address COVID, is being used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Border Patrol to shut down the border to asylum seekers, unaccompanied children and those entering the USA without inspection because they might have COVID. These individuals are expelled at the US-Mexico border, without giving them an opportunity to request asylum. As of February, 2021, CBP has expelled 520,000 to Mexico or to their country of origin. At times, to their death. There is no evidence, no public health rationale to support the idea that refugees have a higher incidence of COVID than the general population. Yet, Border Patrol and ICE have used Title 42 to expel anyone they wanted to.
Up until February, 2021, 13,000 unaccompanied children were expelled. The current administration was able to amend Title 42 to exempt unaccompanied children from expulsion. However, the Biden administration will not lift all of the Title 42 restrictions.
“After the Biden administration took office, the administration began allowing some families, especially those with young children, to enter the United States despite Title 42. This has occurred most often in the Rio Grande Valley, after Mexican officials—citing a new law relating to the treatment of migrant children—told CBP not to expel some families. Families who were admitted this way are generally provided with COVID 19 tests, are connected with local nonprofit organizations who help secure transportation to their ultimate destination or a place of quarantine if necessary.” (“American Immigration Council, A Guide to Title 42 Expulsions at the Border,” page 5)
The Biden administration has recently put out the word to Central America that they need to wait to come to the USA until we can deliver a safe and orderly process for them when they arrive. But, they are not waiting.
Because of current policies, there are only three groups of people allowed to enter the US: People who were under MPP, unaccompanied children, and mothers with children seven and under.
These policies are one reason for the surge in unaccompanied children. The family is separated and the older kids enter the US as “unaccompanied”. Another reason for the surge is that some refugees know that their cases are not strong enough to gain asylum, so they send their kids across—unaccompanied. Mothers with small children are allowed to pass, and after processing, they end up at places like the Brownsville bus station, where I interact with them. Or, they end up at other nonprofit humanitarian organizations.
They arrive with nothing. We give them travel supplies, food, clothing, a personal care bag, a blanket, a pillow, a snack sack and whatever else they might be able to use on the bus trip. The children are given formula, diapers, wipes, toys, a small stuffed Beanie Baby, and coloring pages. Our goal is to make them feel welcomed and loved in the USA. There is not much of a chance that the family will ever be reunited.
On a slow day, we may see fifty people. On a busy day, we will see four hundred. Sometimes, the demand exceeds what we have to give. One of the most needed items we provide are hygiene kits. I am developing an Emergency Travel Kit for the immigrants. It is a hygiene kit and a dignity bag to see them through to their destination. My goal is to always have enough on hand to supply the need. I need help with this. If you would like to do something tangible for immigrants on the border, please contact me on how you, your church, club, or organization can help.Adult males and those who are expelled, along with others who are waiting to cross into the States end up in Reynosa, Mexico. A new refugee camp is forming there. The camp is a tent city in squalor. I am working with other nonprofits to provide Crisis Care Kits for the people there. These kits are designed for people who are stuck in a long-term crisis situation.
I have seen the Beast called Title 42. It is much larger and much more vile than we have time to talk about today. Someday, it will die and immigrants will be treated fairly and compassionately. My heart will sing again. The angels will sing again. And the immigration system will be wall to wall unicorns and rainbows.
Until then, we will continue to care for the immigrants as long as they come. We will do whatever it takes for as long as it takes. We will continue to serve those who desire to become part of the American fabric. We will serve those who want to make America the light and hope of freedom to the rest of the world.
If you would like to know more about Mark and Marilyn’s work on the border, or how you can help, like their Facebook page or email Mark for more information at mtmasai@aol[dot]com. You can also check out Mark’s previous articles that share more about the camp in our Tales of Diversity section.