Brief #75—Civil Rights

While the American public is still horrified after the migrant tear gas encounter at the San Ysidro border in November, troops are being shifted, more individuals are attempting to seek asylum, and most heartbreaking: a 7 year old died in US custody. In Baja California, there are approximately 7,500 migrants in the state currently waiting to begin seeking asylum and 2,000 of those remain in Mexicali about 90 miles from the border deciding whether to go to Tijuana. The Mexican government opened Unidad Deportiva Benito Juarez, an open-air sports complex less than a mile from the border to house migrants as US immigration officials process around 40 applications a day due to the ‘metering’ system – metering implies there is a cap on how many migrants may enter each day.

Thus, some migrants who are being turned away or forced to wait at designated entry ports are then resorting to illegally crossing the border and turning themselves in. However, the Trump Administration has not felt the need to remove military men and women stationed at the border and 5,600 troops are supporting US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) on the border. At its height (after the San Ysidro border crossing) there were 5,900 active duty personnel at the US Southern Border – costing tax-payers nearly $72 million. Currently about 300 service members along Arizona and Texas have been shifted to California in anticipation of a new wave of migrants from Baja California. Troops are set to stay at the border until January 31, and Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters that he would leave some engineers in Texas and Arizona in case the US “ever had to close the ports of entry” as was done in San Ysidro.

On December 6, 163 people were taken into custody by the CBP in the New Mexican desert after crossing the border and approaching agents to seek asylum. Among this group was a 7 year old girl, Jakelin and her father from Guatemala. According to the CBP, Jakelin appeared to have been deprived of food and water for days before arriving at the border, but what is unclear is what measures officials took to reverse that once she was taken into custody. At the border, once her and her father’s screenings were complete, they were loaded onto a bus to travel 94 miles to the next border patrol station. Just 8 hours after Jakelin and her father were taken into custody she began having seizures, vomiting and her fever reached 105.9. She received emergency medical attention upon arrival at the border patrol station and was revived twice before being flown to a hospital in Texas. She died 15 hours later at the Providence Children’s Hospital in El Paso on December 8 after suffering cardiac arrest and was diagnosed with brain swelling and liver failure.

The ACLU blames Jakelin’s death on “inhumane conditions” and a “lack of accountability, and a culture of cruelty” which has only created space for exacerbated policies that can lead to death. US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), Department of Homeland Security officials and the Trump Administration deny that they are responsible for what happened to Jakelin. Her father said neither he nor his daughter had health issues during their initial screening recorded on a form in English, though a verbal Spanish translation was offered as well. No single party is taking responsibility for the young girl’s death and Jakelin is the second child to die while in US custody (in May a toddler died shortly after being released). Given the way the Trump Administration has strong-armed the US southern border and migrants over the course of this year, it is plausible for Americans to want to challenge the nonchalant, out-of-our-control attitude that surrounds Jakelin’s death. While there were claims about Jakelin being deprived of food and water for days – as one can imagine many of the individuals in the migrant caravan may have also suffered – there were reports way back in January of border patrol agents destroying food and water that humanitarian groups would bring and leave for migrants. So, the question is not did they  offer food and water, but did they make sure a girl as young as 7 was drinking water and eating before putting her on a bus for another lengthy journey.

Additionally, there have been numerous arguments all throughout this year about the ethics behind making migrants sign forms in English that they cannot understand and are signing under duress. In the case of Jakelin and her father, there was a verbal translation available, but there has yet to be an effort to provide written translated forms. The individual that provided the verbal translation could have easily – assuming he/she was an adequate linguist – translated the form tangibly. While this may seem trivial, it arguably reflects and sums up the treatment of migrants at the border thus far: providing minimal assistance to say it was done, but lacking the officiality and formality in practice. In theory, the verbal translation could have had several issues: the translator could have been subpar, maybe it was not a thorough translation, perhaps it was quick with little time for questions, perhaps it was done privately with minimal witnesses (an official, tangible doc would formalize the translation), and perhaps it was even just a rumor.

As for the prominent military presence throughout this year at the southern border, millions of American taxpayer dollars are used to deploy military men and women (and all the expenses that come with that like equipment, transportation, etc) to be used as political pawns to invoke and sustain fears of migrants and appease the xenophobic aspect of Trump’s support base. While it has been discussed that the number of troops is going to dwindle down, there have not been any indicators or firm agreements of how or when this would play out, realistically.

Resistance Resources

  • The ACLU: a non-profit with a longstanding commitment to preserving and protecting the individual rights and liberties the Constitution and US laws guarantee all its citizens. You can also donate monthly to counter Trump’s attacks on people’s rights. Recently, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging the separation of families at the border.
  • The National Immigration Law Center: an organization that exclusively dedicates itself to defending and furthering the rights of low income immigrants and strives to educate decision makers on the impacts and effects of their policies on this overlooked part of the population.
  • an organization that aims to promote the tech community to support policies that keep the American Dream alive. They specifically and currently focus on immigration reform.

This Brief was authored by Kathryn Baron. For inquiries, suggestions or comments email

Photo by Roi Dimor

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