What the Hell Pete Buttigieg

Screenshot: CBS Miami

Several Democratic presidential hopefuls visited a Miami migrant child detention center together on Friday—but while all of them got a photo-op in, Mayor Pete Buttigieg apparently decided that was enough.

Buttigieg, along with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Gov. John Hickenlooper, Sen. Kamala Harris, and Julián Castro, visited the for-profit Homestead center in Miami, where over 2,000 migrant children are currently being detained by the U.S. The effort to bring the candidates was led by Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powel, who first addressed the protesters at the site, per the Sun-Sentinel. (Candidate Marianne Williamson also took a separate trip to Homestead.)

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The candidates all provided short statements to the reporters on hand, denouncing the cruelty of parent-child separation and calling out various facets of the Trump administration’s horrifying policies.

Buttigieg said a portion of his statement in Spanish, in which he said the children and their families came looking for the American Dream.

“We have a moral obligation to support them,” Buttigieg then continued in English, per CBS News. “We went into that facility and requested the opportunity to see what is going on there. And we were told no, we were told sorry, we were told somebody had to place a phone call to somebody somewhere in Washington.”

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After Buttigieg issued his statement and completed a television interview, BuzzFeed News’ Molly Hensley-Clancy reported that the mayor left the Homestead center. The reason this is noteworthy is because the protestors have set up ladders for the candidates to climb on and look over the fence and into the facility where the children are being kept. Buttigieg apparently decided his words were enough, to the anger of protesters gathered there.

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Other candidates made a different choice.

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There has been a robust discussion in the past few days surrounding the use of black and brown bodies by politicians and the news media, specifically as it relates to this picture of the deceased Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter Valeria, who were killed by the cruelties of geopolitical forces and an American immigration system turned into an apathetic weapon.

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There exists an argument, in the back of my mind, that these kinds of visits all feel like little more than an opportunistic political play for candidates. But one can also recognize that just because a photo-op is part of the routine, there is true added value in forcing our nation’s reporters and news channels to highlight the long-overlooked and under-covered issues baked into the immigration system. As other national atrocities, such as the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women’s crisis, have shown, invisibility is not a viable alternative.

So if one accepts that things like the Homestead visits are happening, and that, in this case, the victims are not being shown because they are hidden away behind a fence, then what the ladders provided was a genuine opportunity for the presidential candidates to prove that the visit was not just a show, but a learning opportunity. It was a chance to see a glimpse of what it means to be incarcerated for nothing other than wanting to live a better life than the one you left behind.

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Buttigieg did not take that opportunity. In completing his interviews and getting the hell out of there, he revealed the visit’s true purpose, as it existed in his campaign’s mind. I have reached out to the Buttigieg campaign for comment and will update if I hear back.

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