No Room At The Inn

An eight-year-old Guatemalan child died in government custody just a few minutes before Christmas, a holiday normally about a child's birth because children dying is significantly less festive. US Customs and Border Protection did not bother to identify the child, but according to a statement from Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas, his name is Felipe Alonzo-Gomez. He and his father had both been detained on December 18 after crossing the border at El Paso.

CNN reports that a border agent noticed "signs of illness" in Gomez, who was taken to Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center in Alamogordo, New Mexico, about 90 miles from the border crossing. The medical staff, which I presume included doctors, tested him for strep throat but diagnosed him with a common cold and let him go with a souvenir bottle of Tylenol. CBP said in a news release that Gomez was released after 90 minutes with prescriptions for amoxicillin, an antibiotic, and Ibuprofen, which many of us are taking today to treat holiday hangovers. Not long after, he started vomiting and returned to the hospital, where he died hours later. My medical experience is limited to reruns of House but I think there was more wrong than just the sniffles and the doctors should've done more than just put some Robitussin on it.

CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan thinks this is all just terrible. He wants to reassure us that Border Patrol will start conducting health checks of all children in its "care and custody." This inspires the same level of confidence as an airline pilot informing us while we're crossing the Atlantic that very soon they'll start confirming their planes are fully fueled before takeoff.

Despite restricting their definition of "children" to those 10 and under, the CBP's health review could still number in the thousands. CBP also says it will "look at" options to relieve overcrowding at its facilities in the El Paso sector, which includes El Paso county and all of New Mexico. The friendly folks at ICE have been releasing hundreds of migrant asylum seekers at a park near a bus station in downtown El Paso because there was literally "no room at the inn." C'mon, America, you're not even trying anymore. Reporter Claudia Tristan counted at least 90 undocumented immigrants, a third of whom were children, waiting inside the bus station on December 23. She was told that several of them hadn't eaten all day.

ICE is supposed to coordinate with local shelters when their centers are over capacity but likely couldn't be bothered this week with all the seasonal hall decking. This left the mostly Central American migrants dependent upon actual human beings for food, water, and blankets (even in Texas, the temperature has dropped into the 40s). One such human being is House Rep. and former Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke. While Donald Trump spent Christmas railing at his enemies and exposing Santa as a fraud to children, O'Rourke distributed food at an El Paso shelter. Cynics might claim this was just a photo op or a way to jumpstart a possible 2020 presidential run, but it's not like showing concern for brown people, especially immigrants, is a winning political issue. This strikes me as brave and, more importantly, human.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard of California raised the concern many people with non-Grinch-sized hearts share, which is why are migrant children treated like violent criminals regardless of whatever paranoid delusions the president might have about them?

The reality is that a detention center is no place for a child, particularly a sick child. When that child was determined to be ill, had a 103-degree fever, why they would send that child back to a detention center, which is really not fit for even a well child?

That's something that we're looking into, because that policy or whatever caused them to send that child back has to be changed.

California Rep. J. Luis Correa, who is on the Homeland Security Committee, tweeted the following to DHS Secretary and Horrible Person Kirstjen Nielsen.

Correa is rightly pissed but he's also generous enough to provide a crib sheet for Nielsen's next appearance before Congress. When Nielsen testified before a House panel last week, she spaced when Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson asked her how many children 17 and under had died in CBP custody during Nielsen's shameful tenure. She said she'd "get back to you on that figure." Get back to him? He wasn't asking about stock performance during Q2 of the 2017 fiscal year. And I know this woman didn't use "figure" in reference to dead children. She's only had this job for a year and she's already dehumanizing dead kids as a statistic. Worse, though, is she has to jot down the reminder to followup with Johnson. "Find out how many children I let die" is right there next to "pick up dry cleaning."

Nielsen tries complex legal maneuvering to avoid any accountability. When pressed for even just an "approximate figure" (OF DEAD KIDS), she says she's not going to "guess" under oath. Lady, you totally can "guess" under oath. You are not making a definitive statement. You are even saying, "I guess," which English-speaking people will interpret as not an exact figure. If you're just afraid that it'll make you look like an unfeeling ghoul, we're sort of already there.

If anyone should start the new year unemployed and in prison, it should be Nielsen, but instead a volunteer with a group that helps immigrants in the Arizona desert will stand trial in January. Scott Daniel Warren, a volunteer with aid group No More Death, was arrested almost a year ago at a site used for providing immigrants with food, water, beds and clean clothes. His arrest came totally coincidentally after No More Death released a report accusing Border Patrol of messing with water stations left for migrants in the frickin' desert, which is a harsh and barren as the current DHS secretary's soul.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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