‘Tenemos Que Esperar’


Two descriptions of the situation of asylum seekers south of the U.S. border stand out in today’s news. The first comes from the San Diego Union Tribune:

“Members of the migrant caravan who have entered a version of immigration purgatory in Tijuana repeat the same phrase when talking about what will happen to them next — tenemos que esperar.

“The phrase has two possible translations — We have to wait. We have to hope. Both are applicable to the uncertainty facing those who trekked hundreds of miles and are now staring across a border at a goal that has shifted from theory to reality.”

The second description is a clear, comprehensive explanation from the New York Times of “why there’s no clear end to chaos.” Chaos encompasses not only Sunday’s turmoil at the border but also the situation of thousands inside the makeshift shelter of a Tijuana sports stadium complex, “a temporary and potentially unsanitary city of very tired-looking people, many with rattling coughs (especially children) and a swirling rumor mill that keeps everyone on edge.

Other news reports describe conditions for the migrant caravan in Tijuana, decisions to accept deportation back to Central America by Mexican authorities, President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s dilemma in choosing how to respond to U.S. demands, and the multi-million dollar loss suffered by San Diego businesses as a direct result of Sunday’s border closing.

A new AP report focuses on the burgeoning tent city prison in Tornillo, revealing dangerous conditions for the thousands of teens held there, the vast majority of whom are not even accused of any crime.

“More people are detained in Tornillo’s tent city than in all but one of the nation’s 204 federal prisons, yet construction continues….

“None of the 2,100 staff are going through rigorous FBI fingerprint background checks, according to a government watchdog memo obtained exclusively by the AP. …

“Costs appear to be soaring more than 50 percent higher than the government has disclosed. What began as an emergency, 30-day shelter has transformed into a vast tent city that could cost taxpayers more than $430 million.

“Most of the children locked inside Tornillo are never charged with a crime; crossing illegally into the U.S. is a civil offense….

“Because the detention camp is on federal property — part of a large U.S. Customs and Border facility — it is not subject to state licensing requirements.

“BCFS runs Tornillo as it operates evacuation centers for hurricanes: There’s food, first aid, activities and rows of bunk beds, but no normal-life activities for stressed-out teens, like formal school, therapy or unsupervised stretches.”

Another report reveals U.S. law enforcement operations inside Mexico, an affront to Mexican sovereignty that is not going down well with legislators there.

“Operating in detention facilities in southern Mexico and here in the capital, Department of Homeland Security officials have installed scores of screening terminals to collect migrants’ fingerprints, ocular scans and other identifying features, including tattoos and scars….

“Paid for through the $2.5 billion Merida security assistance program launched by President George W. Bush in 2008, the data-collecting effort requires the kind of U.S. access to Mexican facilities that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. It has been largely kept quiet by Mexican authorities, who risk public backlash over suspicions of American government technology and the perception that Washington interferes in the country’s affairs….

“Of 21,000 migrants who were scanned last year, 5,500 had previously been arrested for crossing the U.S. border illegally, the figures show. Of those, 24 were identified as “alien smugglers,” and eight were known gang members.”

Remember that number: out of 21,000 migrants scanned last year, only eight were “known gang members.” Given the over-identification of people as gang members that has been repeatedly reported in the past, that is an astonishingly low number.

The Trump administration is also looking for information on non-citizens already inside the United States. According to documents released in the ongoing legal battle over adding a citizenship question to the census, they want to breach the confidentiality of census records:

“Trump administration officials have privately discussed the possibility that in the future census information could be shared with law enforcement, according to documents filed in a legal challenge over plans for a new citizenship question on the 2020 survey….

“Confidentiality is considered a fundamental premise of the census and crucial to the success of the constitutionally mandated count, which surveys each household in the country every 10 years. That confidentiality is enshrined in the Census Act of 1879.

“In 1954, Congress codified the rules, which say that the Commerce Department, which oversees the survey, cannot share the data with any other government agency or court. Violators are subject to up to five years in federal prison and up to $250,000 in fines. The law can be changed only by Congress.”


About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet, www.tcdailyplanet.net, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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