Immigrants Face Summer Heat, Heartless Policies

Border near Tijuana, photo by Jonathan McIntosh, published under Creative Commons license

Border near Tijuana, photo by Jonathan McIntosh, published under Creative Commons license

In years past, super-heated summer brought slow-downs in migration at the southern border. Even if fewer migrants approach the border, this summer’s heat will threaten those stranded in Mexico by new U.S. asylum rules as well as those trying to cross.

“In Mexicali, the heat poses a potentially lethal threat for migrants living in subsistence conditions. Summer temperatures routinely top 100 degrees in the surrounding desert. In California’s Imperial County, just north of Mexicali, heat contributed to at least 25 deaths and hundreds of hospital visits in 2018, according to county data.

“Preexisting conditions such as heart, kidney and liver disease can be exacerbated by heat, said Rupa Basu, chief of the air and climate epidemiology section at the California Environmental Protection Agency. For vulnerable groups, including infants and children, heat can be deadly even absent underlying health concerns….

“Many asylum-seekers aren’t used to the heat. They come from cities and towns in the mountains of Central America, where conditions are temperate year-round. In Mexicali, many are staying in decaying warehouse-like shelters, sleeping on mats in hot, crowded, open rooms. They don’t have fans, let alone air conditioning.”

So far in fiscal year 2019, children have crossed the border in record numbers: 169,000 youth during the first seven months of the year, with more than half of those under the age of 12. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) lacks both facilities and a coherent plan for the families who approach and turn themselves in. The result: inhumane and dangerous conditions.

“Thank God we’re OK,” said Carmen Juarez, who trekked from Chiquimula, Guatemala, with her 6-year-old daughter. “We slept on the hard ground, under the stars. No mattresses, just a silver blanket. My daughter had a fever and that’s why they asked us to sleep outside.” She said medical personnel took her daughter, Estefani, to the hospital, where she was given medicine and gradually improved.

“At the shelter, inside a hallway echoing with crying kids and smelling of stale sweat, Mefi Fuentes shook his head remembering his ordeal in the processing center.

“I was four days in the freezer (the detainees’ name for CBP’s well air-conditioned holding cells) and five days outside,” he said. “We slept on cement surrounded by a chain-link fence.”…

“They’re overflowing. They’re just putting them outside, on the gravel, on the pavement. We don’t have places for them,” said a veteran Border Patrol agent who works inside the Central Processing Center. He asked not to be named because he’s not authorized to speak for the agency.

“He said he’s not at all surprised that a flu outbreak happened in the facility. “There are no hand-washing facilities, no showers. The smell is horrendous. Our buildings weren’t built to handle this type of stuff.”

One “solution” involves moving migrants to CBP sites farther from the border for processing. So far, the flights and buses have gone to sites in California and Texas, where migrants are processed and often released to return for a court hearing at a later date.

“It is the first time in history the U.S. has transported immigrants to other localities because federal officials can’t process them in time at their original point of entry, [a U.S. Customs and Border Protection official familiar with the plan] said….

And the administration is still considering sending them to Florida and other locations along the northern border in the future, including Detroit and Buffalo, N.Y., according to two DHS officials. The government did not provide the costs of the program.

While Trump said that migrants will be flown to sanctuary cities, that hasn’t happened. Two weeks ago, CBP officials told two counties in Florida that they would be sent a thousand migrants monthly, but that plan was canceled before it began.

No actual plan is discernible from the changing and contradictory messages from the administration. Only a heartless disregard for human life remains constant.

Even as administration officials denounce trafficking and profess concern for victims of trafficking, they are stalling and denying the T-visas authorized to protect those victims. The denial rate rose from 11.3 percent in the first quarter of FY17 to 43.3  percent in the first quarter of FY19. The women and children who should be protected by Trafficking Victims Protection Act have been especially hard-hit:

A review of all published appeals of applications for visas for victims of trafficking since 2017 shows that the administration’s decision-making has been particularly dismissive of claims by women and children who have been trafficked over the southwestern border, and has effectively blamed them for their own victimization. Recently implemented policies also scare survivors from coming forward to report abuse and even push them into the hands of traffickers.”

Heartless treatment extends to migrants with literal heart problems: 53-year-old Andrew Yearwood, detained by ICE, was deported before being allowed to see a cardiologist for the coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure he has suffered since a 2008 heart attack. His country, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, has no cardiologists.

“He reportedly became sick on the flight and began vomiting. Yearwood required the use of oxygen on the plane and was hospitalized upon landing…

“Sarah Gillman, one of his attorneys, told the outlet that it is ‘curious that the minute a lawyer sends an email saying Mr. Yearwood would be meeting with doctors, he’s all of a sudden taken away in silence, out of sight of everyone … and brought to the airport.’”

Seid Moradi never made it to the United States. Although he and his family were issued plane tickets and visas from their temporary home in Turkey, the tickets were canceled three times as Trump’s Muslim travel ban barred them from joining his son in Seattle:  

“Doctors in Seattle were ready to treat his father, Seid Moradi, for a bulging blood vessel by his heart. But in September, he collapsed on his balcony in Kayseri, Turkey, where the family lived in a one-bedroom apartment. He died at 54, four years after fleeing his hometown and 15 months after first being told he could live the rest of his days in the United States.”


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,, 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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