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Op-Ed: Toddler’s death reminds us why Trump’s immigration policies need reform

BY STATE SENATOR JAMES SANDERS, JR.

We must once again question President Trump’s immigration policies and the way we treat migrants seeking asylum who enter our country illegally, especially following the recent death of a toddler near the southern border of the United States and the White House’s response following her tragic demise.

Earlier this month a 7-year-old child died while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. She had been traveling from Mexico with her father when they, and about 160 others, were arrested in a remote part of the desert near New Mexico for trying to enter the United States illegally. About 8 hours later, the child became very ill and started having seizures. CBP said it appeared she hadn’t had anything to eat or drink in several days. She died less than 24 hours after being airlifted to a hospital for treatment.

A White House spokesman called the death a “tragic situation,” but he added that the Trump administration is not to blame. He said: “Does the administration take responsibility for a parent taking a child on a trek through Mexico to get to this country? No.” He further called upon Congress to “disincentivize” migrants from crossing the border illegally and encourage people to come into the country “the right way, the legal way.”

However, that is somewhat of a contradiction since the Trump administration has made the path to citizenship harder than ever before by denying visas and green cards and implementing measures aimed at keeping people out rather than letting them in. Let’s not forget that Trump is still trying to build a wall at the Southern border of the United States and Mexico.

The Trump administration even uses threats and fear as a deterrent. We have all seen the news reports of families being torn apart at the border and heard stories of the prison-like conditions at migrant detention centers.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Border Rights Center blamed the girl’s death on “inhumane conditions,” a “lack of accountability, and a culture of cruelty,” which have “exacerbated policies that lead to migrant deaths.”

The CBP said it took all of the steps possible to save the little girl’s life, but several groups and elected officials have called for an investigation, even though CBP reports that the child and her father were checked for health problems during an initial screening, and offered food, water, and access to restrooms. The father even signed a form denying that either he or his daughter were ill, according to the CBP.

However, just a week before this girl’s death, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan testified before Congress that the areas where illegal immigrants are taken into federal custody “were meant to handle mostly male single adults, not families or children. We need to repair our immigration system – that goes without question – but we also need to conduct our fair share of global humanitarian efforts, so that the conditions in other countries do not become so dire that one would risk their own life or the life of their child in order to seek asylum.

The Wall Street Journal recently called Latin America the murder capital of the world, since this region makes up eight percent of the world’s population, but accounts for about a third of murders globally. The young girl was traveling from Mexico, a country that set a new record for itself with 31,174 murders so far this year.

Guatemala, for example, where the migrant girl was originally from, is known for crimes such as assault, theft, armed robbery, carjacking, rape, kidnapping and murder, according to the United States Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Criminal gangs enlist children as young as 12 to commit targeted assassinations, according to the State Department’s website. Under those conditions, we can begin to understand the mindset of a parent who endangers his or her child, because the alternative is a lot worse.

Here in Southeast Queens, a global melting pot with a rich and diverse mixture of cultures, we must be concerned because it could be one of our friends, loved ones or neighbors, making that journey towards a better life with fatal results. I agree with those who have called for an investigation into this toddler’s death. We must do all we can to ensure that this never happens again. It is devastating to view the photos of this little girl’s innocent face, especially as we approach the Christmas season, and think what a bright future she could have had, if she had only been given a chance.

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