On Monday, a large congressional delegation visited multiple detention centers in Texas to see what the conditions for the people being kept there are like. The things they saw were horrifying.
From Rep. Joaquin Castro:
Many said they had not bathed for 15 days. Some had been separated from children, some had been held for more than 50 days. Several complained they had not received their medications, including one for epilepsy. Members of Congress comforted them when the women broke down.
From Rep. Madeleine Dean:
We were met with hostility from the guards, but this is nothing compared to their treatment of the people being held. The detainees are constantly abused and verbally harassed with no cause. Deprived physically and dehumanized mentally - everyday.
From Rep. Lori Trahan:
Toddlers quarantined in a 8x10’ room sleeping on the floor w/the flu. Young girl in a hot warehouse coloring with a chain link fence around her. Women sobbing in a crowded cell because they were separated from their kids.
From Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:
Now I’ve seen the inside of these facilities. It’s not just the kids. It’s everyone. People drinking out of toilets, officers laughing in front of members Congress. I brought it up to their superiors. They said “officers are under stress & act out sometimes.” No accountability. After I forced myself into a cell w/ women&began speaking to them, one of them described their treatment at the hands of officers as “psychological warfare” - waking them at odd hours for no reason, calling them wh*res, etc. Tell me what about that is due to a “lack of funding?”
Castro also took photos and video of people inside:
These politicians are to be commended for shining a light on what is being done to people in these places. They faced what was, by all accounts, an unremittingly hostile atmosphere—both from the Customs and Border Protection agents who were with them and from some members of the public who shouted racist abuse at them as they talked about what they had seen—and they still used their power in the way that a good representative is supposed to do.
But there is a phrase that these congresspeople keep using that troubles me to no end. See if you can spot it.
“This system is broken.” “Our system is broken.” “Our border patrol system is broken.” “The entire system is broken.”
This is an understandable sentiment, but it is not true, and until we accept that it isn’t true, we won’t get where we need to when it comes to our approach to immigration. The system is not “broken.” It is doing exactly what it is supposed to do. It is working perfectly.
There is simply no evidence that the U.S. immigrant detention system is intended to be humane—not under past presidents, and certainly not under Donald Trump. This is not a case of people trying not to treat immigrants as subhuman and failing. It is a case of people trying and succeeding in treating them that way.
The current administration has been extremely explicit, for years, that it sees immigrants as filth and wants as few of them in America as possible. It has no incentive to be decent to them. Its entire agenda is to dehumanize and destroy them. Its method is cruelty and death.
We have so much documentation of this fact—of the continual, amoral brutality being inflicted on both kids and adults—that it beggars belief that anybody could look at the system and see what is happening as anything other than deliberate. This is what people in power want. They want immigrants to be harmed and abused, and, yes, they are fine with them dying.
And yes, this is not just a Donald Trump problem, it is a Barack Obama and Bill Clinton problem, too. It is an American problem. The abuses of ICE and CBP and DHS—and of the private prison industry and border “security” apparatus that profit off of them—did not start with Trump, and they will not end with him, because that is how the system is set up.
Think about it: if the system was intended to do anything different, wouldn’t there have been even a bit of protest from Border Patrol agents or ICE officials? Wouldn’t we be seeing more people speak out, and say that their conscience would no longer allow them to carry out these sorts of abuses? Wouldn’t there be any indication that anyone had a problem with this? Instead, there is every indication that the immigration law enforcement and detention system is thrilled at what is happening right now. And why wouldn’t it be? This is what people signed up for.
It’s easy to see why people cling to the idea that the system is “broken.” It’s more palatable than accepting the fact that the country you live in is systematically and intentionally abusing people. But it’s also dangerous because it accepts the idea that there is a way to un-break the system, if only we weed the bad parts out. Castro floated this idea on Monday:
Sorry, but this is just not good enough. What more evidence do we need that there can be no future for any of this? What more evidence do we need that there is no such thing as a “good” member of ICE or CBP—that, by the very nature of the system, anyone who operates within it is morally compromised? What more evidence, in short, do we need that the only way to stop what is being done to immigrants in this system is to abolish it entirely? It is long past time for politicians to accept this basic fact, and to do something about it.