by Mark Redwine
There is an old African proverb that goes something like this: “When the elephants fight, the grass is trampled.”
In the context of immigration at the southern border, the elephants are the powers and principalities that control immigration policies. The grass represents the immigrants and the people who provide assistance.
The most obvious problem we face with solving the immigration crisis at the border is the politically venomous rhetoric spewing from Republicans and Democrats.Some of the challenges we face are that there is no national will to find a humanitarian, long-term solution that would secure our borders, protect migrants, and integrate immigrants into the fabric of America. And, there are no plans for a short-term solution. There is no clear consistent immigration policy. The policies change daily. Many policies conflict with each other. The public is becoming fatigued with news about immigration. And, until the situations and conditions that drive migrants to our southern border are solved, they will come.
The one law that is the most confusing and conflicting is Section 265 of Title 42 of the U.S. Code of Laws. This law allows the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prevent people from crossing our borders or to expel them if there is “serious danger of the introduction of disease into the United States.” Trump, in March of 2020, issued an executive order invoking Title 42 to routinely prevent immigrants from entering the country.
Since then, immigrant and human rights advocates have lobbied to have the order rescinded. A federal judge, in November, ordered a halt to the practice of rejecting unaccompanied minors, saying it violates The Trafficking Victims Protection Act and several other laws. Another court overturned that ruling.In February, Biden asked the CDC to review the Trump order and determine if it was needed or should be modified. Not being able to rescind Title 42, the CDC ordered an exemption of the expulsion of Unaccompanied Noncitizen Children because the use of Title 42 at the border prevents unaccompanied minors a chance to plead their case, and it violates the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Simply put, Title 42 violates international laws and agreements that the USA has signed on to.
Title 42 is primarily used to prevent Central American immigrants from entering the USA. The decision of who may pass and who can’t pass lies with the individual Border Agent or Officer. There is no consistency in the application of Title 42.
Biden has refused to halt Title 42 but has ordered Presidential Exemptions. These include women with children six and under, pregnant women, and nursing women. Other exemptions include handicapped people, especially handicapped children, those under Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP), and a few others. The women and children are the only exempt groups who cannot cross into the USA the “right way,” even though the President says they can come and apply for asylum. Because of the way Title 42 is applied, only about twenty percent are allowed to pass.
When they cross the Rio Grande River, they surrender to a Border Agent; they are then processed and enter the USA. At this point, they have permission to be here and to travel. In this sector, when they are released from custody, they are taken to the Brownsville bus station or to a Catholic Charities Respite Center in McAllen, Texas. There, they buy their own tickets to travel to either a sponsor or a relative in the USA. We see between 200-400 a day here in Brownsville. The Respite Center in McAllen sees around 1,000 a day. The main goal is to help them get to their destination.All immigrants are tested for COVID. Some test positive. If a family needs to quarantine, there is help for them to find a place to stay. There is no law in effect that requires those who are COVID+ to stay in place. A national Shelter-in-Place Order is required to do that.
Many families who cross in hopes of staying together are separated. Under Title 42, those over eighteen are taken into custody and later expelled. The kids between seven and seventeen are considered unaccompanied minors. The families that are not allowed to come in are expelled as a family unit.
About three weeks ago, things started getting complicated. First, Governor Greg Abbott issued a Disaster Declaration because of the immigration crisis on the border. His goal is to stop all immigration. First, he called up the National Guard to help build more border wall and gave them the authority to arrest migrants. So far, they have only built a small chain-link fence and haven’t arrested anyone. Then, he instructed the Department of Public Safety (Highway Patrol) to arrest and jail any migrant who crossed the Rio Grande for Felony Trespass. About seventy-five have been arrested. Their bond is from $5,000 to $10,000.
Then, COVID raised its ugly head. With 1,000 people a day passing thru the Respite Center in McAllen, many were testing positive. So, the Respite Center quarantined them. Some were put in motels because the quarantine area at the Respite Center was full. They were fed and all their needs were taken care of. But, one family was hungry so they went to a hamburger joint beside the motel. They were exhibiting symptoms so a concerned citizen called the police. The police came, checked the immigrant’s papers and they went back to the motel. The next day, the police investigated. They found that the Respite Center rented the entire motel as a place to quarantine COVID+ immigrants. The story hit the press, and the response from the Governor was to issue an executive order that restricted civilians from transporting migrants. The Highway Patrol was instructed to stop and impound any civilian vehicle used to transport migrants. The U.S. Attorney’s office issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Abbott’s executive order. A District Judge signed the TRO because Abbotts order conflicts with and attempts to regulate federal government immigration laws and operations. It would stop all movement of immigrants north from the border. And, it would occupy law enforcement personnel when they are not able to be spared. The TRO expires on August 13.
Then, expulsion under Title 42 became very complicated. Before this week many migrants expelled under Title 42 were sent to Reynosa, Mexico, where there is a 4,000-person refugee camp. Or, flown to other places in the USA close to where Mexico would accept them. After the COVID story broke, Mexico became very picky as to where migrants could be expelled. And, border towns were afraid of being exposed by migrants to COVID. Laredo, Texas, issued a disaster declaration to stop migrant transfers from here. We were sending hundreds a day. That was on July 21. But, the flights resumed this weekend because the number of people detained in the Rio Grande Valley became unsustainable. The closest place expelled immigrants can be flown to now is San Diego. There, they are just dumped across the border into Tijuana.
Last week the Biden administration started flying expelled Central Americans to the southern Mexican border. This policy is to continue with the expectation that Mexico will fly them back to their country of origin. There is an accelerated effort to expel Central Americans. Central Americans who are not under Title 42 are flown to their country of origin.
Another complication is that detention centers are experiencing a huge increase in migrants and in COVID among staff. Recently the Border Patrol considered closing down the highway checkpoints and placing those agents in the detention centers.
When the immigrants arrive at the bus station, they have nothing except the clothes they are wearing and a mesh orange onion sack with their paper work inside. Their belongings are taken away from them and are left on the ground like trash where they surrendered themselves. They are cold, hungry, tired, and dehumanized. But they are the most gracious, grateful, humble, and thankful people with which I have ever had the pleasure of interacting. Despite all of the discouragements and disappointments they have hope. Just like you would have to have if you were in their situation.
Many times, they need more than we can offer, but we do what we can. We try to restore their dignity. And, they let us know that they understand that we are doing the very best we can for them, even when we don’t have enough.
The elephants are fighting, the grass is trampled and the immigrants are still suffering the same way they have been for the last three years.
And, I have hope. Hope that one day Title 42 will be revoked. That our government would abide by international law. That we would become a country that provides immigrants, and all people, the basic respect and humane treatment they deserve.
Note: The Brownsville Herald ran a series on immigration and most of the information in this piece came from them.
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.