More humane approach to refugees needed

US President Donald Trump’s stance on migrants from Central America fleeing gang warfare or persecution due to their race, religion or political views makes a mockery of the plaque on his nation’s most recognisable monument. “Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . .” now reads like a bad joke.

Desperate men, women, children and babies, mostly from Nicaragua and El Salvador travelled north to the US-Mexican border seeking safety. For over a month they slept rough and often went without food in the hope of achieving their dreams. Their quest was futile even though their applications are in line with US law, international law and human rights conventions.

They are not only unwanted, they are being criminalised merely for submitting their requests and subjected to prolonged detention; their children, including 18-month-old toddlers, have been torn from the arms of their parents and housed in secret facilities since early last month.

The United Nations Human Rights Office has also slammed the practice. “Neither the United Nations nor anyone else will dictate how the United States upholds its borders,” was the defiant response of the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley.

“These are children who have already suffered the trauma of violence and persecution in their native countries and the arduous journey to seek safety. Why in the world would the US government institute a policy that would compound their distress . . . This is a monstrous policy that flies in the face of human rights, and should be rescinded immediately,” said the executive director of Amnesty International USA, Margaret Huang.

The answer is simple. Those who dare to knock on the door of the fabled Land of the Free shall be punished to deter others. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has admitted as much, a policy he attempts to defend. When asked by radio host Hugh Hewitt how he would feel if his own grandchildren were forcibly taken away his heartlessness was on display. “They are just coming here to make more money,” he said while falsely branding them illegal migrants.

This sits well with Ann Coulter, a right-wing commentator and frequent guest on Fox News, who advocates an even more extreme solution. Border guards should shoot or hang one as a deterrent to others she says.

Adults have been incarcerated in prison-like detention facilities, made to wear orange jumpsuits reminiscent of the clothing worn by Guantanamo detainees in spite of the fact they present no threat to national security. Their imprisonment is indefinite; they have no idea how long they will remain behind bars. Their fate rests in the hands of officials who’ve been told from on high to reject legitimate claims.

The pain and anguish experienced by these poor people and their young ones can only be imagined. For them, America is as brutal, if not more so, than their oppressors at home.

The Daily Kos highlights the plight of a mother from Honduras called Mirian. She arrived at the border, handed over her documents and the next morning was told her 18-month-year-old son would be housed elsewhere. She was forced to strap the boy into a car seat and to listen to his screams as the vehicle was driven off without her. “I could barely move or speak or think knowing that my son had never spent time without me before and now he was alone,” she recounted.

Locked inside wire cages

Worse, according to an account given to the media by Senator Jeff Merkley who visited a processing centre at the McAllen Border Station, hundreds of children are locked inside wire cages, made to sleep on concrete floors covered with a single thin foil blanket.

His next stop was a facility for children in Brownsville, Texas, an old Walmart warehouse where he was barred entry. A government contractor told him to leave. When he refused the police were called. The senator is appalled at the treatment meted out to these innocent youngsters and at the secrecy surrounding their detention. Not even US lawmakers know what’s happening to them behind locked doors let alone human rights agencies. Who is caring for them? What are they being fed? Are they being schooled? No one knows.

If any other nation besides America’s protected ally Israel behaved with such disrespect for the rights of the child the story would make front page newspaper headlines and would be fodder for pontificating ‘expert’ TV pundits. Investigative journalists would be on the case. Congressional committees would wag fingers.

Where are the voices of concern, those who vociferously champion saving our oceans, ending modern day slavery, campaign to fight injustice and poverty or to advance women’s rights? These parents and their children are deliberately been kept out of sight which is all the more reason to highlight their plight.

Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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