‘Children in cages’: America’s border crisis on its doorstep

By Qing Ming (People's Daily Online) 16:25, March 31, 2021

Photo released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows unaccompanied children sleeping on mats in foil blankets.

In concrete jungles, the gleaming windows of a skyscraper can give the building a sense of superficial fancifulness, but they also create a perilous trap: their brightness results in nearly a billion birds being killed every year in the U.S. alone. Likewise, the Beacon of Light, with its mirage of false hope, has attracted tens of thousands of unaccompanied children (UACs) to its borders. Little did those kids know that what awaited them was a waking nightmare - detention in a cramped camp-like location, sleeping on mats under foil blankets, and separation from their parents - a traumatic and disturbing scene to behold.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on March 23 released two videos and 44 photos of the processing centers in Donna and El Paso, Texas, offering a rare and fresh glimpse into what was happening along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Unlike most pictures, which only show trivial activities inside the so-called processing centers, the two photographs showing kids packed like sardines in migrant detention centers are particularly striking. As their American counterparts sleep under warm cotton quilts or blankets, foil coverings are all they get in that virus-friendly, Petri dish-like space. Worse still, those kids have no idea what lies ahead: years of waiting for another empty hope (some have been detained for two years) or getting deported for good to “where they belong”.

According to CNN, there were more than 18,000 children in US government custody on March 26, up from more than 17,000 a day before. The number of unaccompanied migrant children in federal custody continued to climb in recent weeks.

Despite the bipartisan inaction over the deepening border crisis, some kind-hearted U.S. citizens have, as always, expressed their sympathy over their “almost fellow countrymen”.

“More than 500 migrant children were packed into plastic-walled rooms built for 32 people, sitting inches apart on mats with foil blankets Tuesday (March 23) at the largest U.S. CPB holding facility for unaccompanied children,” said Carl Zimmer, a New York Times columnist, in a tweet. “This makes my heart break with indescribable anxiety and discomfort,” a comment under a video clip shared by Reuters read. “We should realize that this is just a bipartisan, government problem. What's tearing families apart is the polarization on Capitol Hill, the lack of accountability along the border,” read another comment.

Other netizens, however, have simply turned the comment section into a partisan battleground. “Somebody explain why putting all these people in cages is better than escorting them out of the country?” replied one netizen to a CNN tweet, echoing Senator Ted Cruz’s reference to the Donna processing centers as “the Biden cages”. “Ironic that the Democrats accused Trump of separating families in detention, but here we have the Democrats themselves instituting a policy that sees thousands of families separated on the southern side of the border,” noted a comment on a WSJ’s opinion article Biden’s Border Crisis, Up Close.

A screenshot shows John Moore sharing a link of his article on the Washington Post titled “I’m a photojournalist. Why is the administration banning me from border facilities?”

Some also cast doubts on transparency regarding the border crisis. The Washington Post on March 23 published an article by John Moore, a photojournalist and senior special correspondent for Getty Images, in which he expressed his concerns that “Biden has shifted border policy from ‘zero tolerance’ to ‘zero access’… I know firsthand that many agents are eager for me and other photographers to document their work — just as migrants want to tell their stories,” Moore wrote. 

Twitter users are also sharing a tweet by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, who tweeted on April 6, 2019: "The pain and consequences of the human rights abuses that are still happening at our border will be felt by these children, their families, and our country for many years to come."

Screenshot shows a comment on Kamala Harris's tweets back in 2019

The migrant detention centers have existed for years along with the deep-seated border crisis, and no one knows this better than U.S. President Joe Biden, who was haunted by the same crisis during his vice presidency, and even on the presidential debate stage. The same old puzzle will continue to vex him in the White House. His predecessor left him with a half-built border wall, but will the Biden administration find a solution to address the full-blown border crisis? The world is watching.

Photo released by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows migrants packed in cramped conditions.

(Web editor: Meng Bin, Liang Jun)


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