There Are Alternatives to Caging Immigrants in Dehumanized Conditions

July 3, 2019

We talk with Vicki Gaubeca from Southern Borders Community Coalition about the conditions in the immigration prison camps, the Border Patrol's FB page, and proposals for humane treatment of refugees

We talk with Vicki Gaubeca from Southern Borders Community Coalition about the conditions in the immigration prison camps, the Border Patrol's FB page, and proposals for humane treatment of refugees


There Are Alternatives to Caging Immigrants in Dehumanized Conditions

Story Transcript

REP. RASHIDA TLAIB – (D) MICHIGAN What we saw today, what we did today, is try to bring the eyes and ears that you all can’t have when we go into these facilities.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO – (D) TEXAS And we saw that the system is still broken, and that peoples’ human rights are still being abused.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ – (D) NEW YORK No woman should ever be locked up in a pen when they have done no harm to another human being. They should be given water. They should be given basic access to human rights.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO – (D) TEXAS These are the conditions that have been created by the Trump administration.

REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY – (D) MASS. This is bigger than a funding debate or about any speeches that we give here on the floor of the House of Representatives. This is about the preservation of our humanity.

MARC STEINER Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. It’s good to have you with us. In the last few weeks, the horror of the crisis at our border with Mexico has come into the full light of day for all of America to witness — the federal government’s own inspector general report to physicians calling on the inhumane conditions they’ve witnessed. We have ProPublica exposing the racist, misogynist page created by some border patrol agents called “I’m 10-15” to the congressional representatives themselves visiting facilities and exposing the vile conditions that immigrants and children are being kept in.

Congress was divided and debated funding and then passed funding for border agencies, but it was stopped because of not trusting Trump and what he would do. Border Patrol associations and Trump, along with certain right-wing punditry, are trying to blame it all on Democrats for not funding Homeland Security in the first place. So on this July 4th weekend approaching us all, we have to ask ourselves some serious introspective questions about what are our values of liberty, freedom, and democracy. What do they really mean? And we are joined by Vicki Gaubeca who is Director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition from Tucson, Arizona. And, Vicki, welcome. Good to have you with us.

VICKI GAUBECA Thank you for having me.

MARC STEINER So, you know, you’ve been working on this but let me take a quick ten seconds step backwards. Describe very quickly for us who you are and what your organization is.

VICKI GAUBECA The Southern Border Communities Coalition is part of a network of networks where we have organizations from San Diego to Brownsville, and we all come together to fight for the basic human rights for both border communities and for newcomers and visitors to our area. Unfortunately, we’ve seen in the last two decades just an increasing hyper-militarization of our home and an unfortunate erosion of human rights.

MARC STEINER So this has caused a huge controversy in this country and it’s clear this country’s divided on immigration very deeply. I just want to begin with this, kind of, take from Fox TV. It’s The Five on Fox News. Greg Gutfield is the speaker’s name, attacking Ocasio-Cortez and other people who are critiquing border patrol detention facilities and because this is part of what’s going out there this moment. Let’s watch this from it, before we comment.

GREG GUTTFIELD – FOX NEWS COMMENTATOR ON “THE FIVE” I think the bigger story too is how the left has this free pass to demonize anyone. We’ve seen accusations of child abuse directed at people who work there. She’s suggested that these guys might sexually assault her. She doesn’t feel safe around them. These are horrible things to say about people casually, to say them casually. But if you respond angrily or you make a — or criticize her, suddenly she becomes the victim. These are snowflakes bearing switch blades. The left incentivizes these crises by egging on two things. The caravans, they were encouraged as a way to overwhelm the border to create visuals. Next? They were incentivized to bring children because the activists were telling people it was easier to get across the border if you bring kids, and it’s easier to demonize the people that are meant to deal with this influx.

MARC STEINER So there are a number of people in this country who watch that and really take that as the gospel. And how would you respond to that?

VICKI GAUBECA The first thing that we need to get out in the open and clear is that migration has happened since the beginning of time. And this person’s comments clearly illustrate that he isn’t aware or recognizing he has a conspiracy theory approach to what is actually happening on our southern border, whereas I’ve lived on the border for more than three decades and have personally witnessed the transformation. And I understand a little bit better why these people are coming to this country who are only seeking a better life, or they’re fleeing violence in their countries, and sometimes it’s even climate change that has provoked them to move here.

But the bottom line is that they are just coming here to seek a better life, to put food on their table, to provide for their families in a better way. And it’s been our international policies, and our trade policies, and our climate policies that have actually contributed to this problem. We need to change the paradigm. We need to shift and find a better way to govern our border because that’s what we need. The only thing that we’ve done in the past two decades is throw law enforcement resources, engaged in deterrence tactics that are simply not working— they’re only creating more harm— and what we really need is a whole society, whole government approach to prevent this humanitarian crisis from getting even worse.

MARC STEINER So I’m curious, for a moment let’s talk a bit together about what is the alternative here when you look at this? I mean, a couple of things I’ve been reading — you know, I’ve been looking at what happened at Ellis Island all those years ago and it would take five or six hours to put hundreds of people through a system of inspection and let them in. Well, this is not 1912, or 1907, or 1897. It’s a different world. We’re living in a different place but still, people came in. They didn’t have visas. They didn’t. They came to the border with nothing — crossed the ocean and we let them in. And I was reading another article this morning just about how the new policies between human services in the cabinet and our security agencies make it more difficult to place these children who’ve bared the brunt of, taking the brunt of this pain.

We’ve seen how they’re being held in these inhumane conditions because they cannot unite them with their family members because that means your fellow members could then be arrested and some of them can be detained and put in jail. We already have a few thousand people in prisons trying to cross the borders. I mean, so when you have these forces at work, what do you and your group and groups like you say could be the alternative to this?

VICKI GAUBECA Look, I think that what the American public should understand is that a lot of what we’re seeing at the border has been created by these bottlenecks. You just mentioned one, one of the bottlenecks, which is they started fingerprinting sponsors. So these—And that takes just forever. They just get them a lot longer and delay the release of these children back into the community. So that is a significant reason why we’re seeing the overcrowding at the children’s shelters. They’ve also created bottlenecks at the border. They’re returning asylum seekers to Mexico to wait for their court hearings. We know thousands of them are waiting. They also engage in this metering system at the ports of entry. When they come in, they legally apply for asylum at the ports of entry, as they are completely — it’s a completely legal process. They put their name on a list, and then they send them back to Mexico to wait.

And so what this is doing is creating this huge bottleneck that—And then, they’re holding, they’re detaining people a lot longer in the short-term custody cells of Border Patrol, and they’re holding them longer in ICE detention. So we’re just seeing this ridiculous overcrowding of these holding cells and it’s not that the agency doesn’t have enough resources. It is the largest law enforcement agency in the nation and its budget is, you know, $20 billion. This additional $4.6 billion that they got recently—You know, the problem is they’re not using their resources adequately. So if we went—I mean, this is not a huge surge. It’s not like we can’t handle it. We deal with a million people a day coming through our ports of entry. Well, you know, the largest numbers of apprehensions was 1.6 billion and that was back in the 2000s.

So they’re just not being efficient with their resources and they’re not dedicating them in the places that need to be dedicated. And so, that’s why we actually are advocating for a new approach and this approach would actually put the resources where they’re needed with, you know—And I don’t know if you’re familiar with this, but in every single border town— Tucson, San Diego, Las Cruces, New Mexico, El Paso, down on the Rio Grande Valley— there are all of these community shelters that are being run where hundreds of volunteers daily come in and welcome the individuals who are being released into the community by Border Patrol and ICE. And that’s a very orderly humane process. There are beds. They’re given shelter, a bed, food, and then transportation arrangements.

MARC STEINER So what you’re arguing here, though, is that there are facilities that exist that are being run by nonprofits and by small organizations that could actually take care of people coming in, rather than putting them in cages and housing them in cages? That’s what you’re—

VICKI GAUBECA Well, I think—What I think that needs to happen is a whole of society and a whole of government approach. In other words, it shouldn’t be that all of these volunteers taking full responsibility for something the government should be doing. However, they’re there.

MARC STEINER No, right.

VICKI GAUBECA They’re going out every single day. So how can we combine the resources of the government and the community to ensure that these individuals have safe passage and that they get the due process that they have the right to make a case for asylum or to—You know, we also need other — to reform our immigration process to allow more from it.

MARC STEINER I mean, very quickly and then I’m going to move to another topic here. I mean, if we can spend tens of millions of dollars on, hundreds of millions of dollars on private prison agencies to run these facilities, you could spend that same money on the facilities you’re talking about where there’s humane conditions and people actually take care of people while people are having their request for asylum judged by the federal government. I mean, that’s part of—I mean that there’s a different way to do this.

VICKI GAUBECA Yes.

MARC STEINER So I want to jump to, before we come back to our congressional representatives and look at some of the things they said. Before we close, I need to come to that Facebook page, 10-15, that we talked about. And I would say to my viewers here, there is some of what you’re going to see pop up on the screen from that Facebook — are pretty horrendous and if you do not want to see some of these pictures that are very misogynist and offensive and hard to look at, then don’t look at this part. Just listen to us and turn it down. If you have kids, maybe they shouldn’t be in the room, but I want to talk about these. So we’ve seen these images come up, horrendous images.

I mean, mocking the people who came across the border, talking about throwing these burritos at Congresswomen, to the pictures of the poor son and daughter who died and call them floaters—”have you ever seen floaters like this?”— to this horrendous picture of a forced oral sex with Ocasio-Cortez and Trump. I mean, we don’t know who’s in this Facebook yet, who’s actually these 9,500 people. Are they border agents? Are they part of some right-wing group? Are they a mixture of retired and active agents? We don’t know, but it’s there and on the heels of what we’ve seen other, kind of, police forces around this country put up as well. So what are your initial thoughts about this, because part of the work you do is trying to reform that whole question of how the Border Patrol works?

VICKI GAUBECA I think it’s emblematic of an agency that has been held to very little or practically no accountability. It’s a culture of cruelty that’s filled with, you know, racism and misogyny and it really, you know, reflects—It’s just another symptom of an agency that’s out of control and it needs to professionalize its members. Our hope is that this Facebook, you know, the people who are posting on that, are disciplined appropriately because I think fundamentally the bottom line is, we all want a professional agency. And clearly, that Facebook page shows the opposite of what a professional agency should look like. But it really does speak to this culture of impunity enjoyed by this agency as well. We work a lot with retired Border Patrol agents and some of them have expressed skepticism that people will actually be held accountable here.

MARC STEINER And they may not be and that’s something we all have to watch very closely. When Trump was on Meet the Press with Chuck Todd on Sunday, he said this response to the immigration debate. Let’s just listen to what he had to say for a moment.

CHUCK TODD, HOST OF “MEET THE PRESS” ON NBC The conditions are terrible.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP I agree, and it’s been that way for a long time.

CHUCK TODD, HOST OF “MEET THE PRESS” ON NBC Do something. Do something.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP And President Obama built the cages. Remember when they said that I built them? President Obama built — they call them jail cells. They were built by the Obama—

CHUCK TODD, HOST OF “MEET THE PRESS” ON NBC Let’s talk about what’s happening now.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP I’m just telling you.

CHUCK TODD, HOST OF “MEET THE PRESS” ON NBC Your administration, they’re not even doing the recreation. You’re not even schooling these kids anymore. You’ve gotten rid of all that stuff.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP We’re doing a fantastic job under the circumstances. The Democrats aren’t even approving giving us money. Where is the money? You know what? The Democrats are holding up the humanitarian aid—

CHUCK TODD, HOST OF “MEET THE PRESS” ON NBC But you let the political debate hurt these children. We could be impacted, affected for years.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP Chuck, if the Democrats would change the asylum laws and the loopholes, which they refuse to do because they think it’s good politics, everything would be solved immediately, but they refuse to do it.

MARC STEINER Sorry. I just have a hard time watching sometimes myself [laughs]. So you see this right here, I’m just, you know this is — I mean, it’s true that some of Obama’s policies were really bad when it came to immigration and he did build the cages, but that’s not the situation we’re facing now. It’s how the cages are being filled, who’s filling them, and how they’re being managed.

VICKI GAUBECA Exactly. I mean, one thing that he says that is correct is that they’ve been militarizing the border for several decades. These facilities have been here. It’s just there’s more of them. There’s more Border Patrol agents. There’s more of everything down here. We’re facing a serious hyper-militarization of our community. However, the one place that I think—First of all, that supplemental bill was passed. They did get $4.6 billion without any accountability measure, and that was a bipartisan thing. However, what is needed more is more accountability measures to make sure that that money is being spent where it should be spent. I mean, only $650 million of that budget, of that $4.6 billion, is actually going to humanitarian needs such as food and consumables, so it’s very necessary for us to have stronger oversight of the agency to ensure that people are treated humanely. I mean, the question that comes up for me is how is this $4.6 billion being used and are we actually monitoring them to ensure that it’s being used in an adequate way to provide more humanitarian shelters for these individuals?

MARC STEINER So I want to close with this — we’re going to hear two congresswomen Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley critiquing the border detention facilities because I really want to conclude with you, Vicki, just about again what we have to do next.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ – (D) NEW YORK There is abuse in these facilities. There’s abuse. What we saw today was unconscionable. This is them on their best behavior and they put them in a room with no running water. And these women were being told by CBP officers to drink out of the toilet.

REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY – (D) MASS. The mothers, the abuelas, the tias, the madres that I sat with who wept openly in our arms, not even knowing our names, because of the trauma they are experiencing and because they don’t know where their children are… Keep yelling. This is very appropriate. Vile rhetoric for vile actions. Hateful rhetoric for hateful behavior. Racist words and venom for racist policies. Very apropos. I am tired of the health, and the safety, the humanity and the full freedoms of black and brown children being negotiated and compromised and moderated.

MARC STEINER So we’ll close with that and your final thoughts, Vicki. One of the things you heard is yelling in the background. The yelling you heard was from people yelling at them that “we don’t want sharia law,” that “we want Jesus Christ” — “Christian values” are what they were yelling at them as they were trying to talk at that press conference. But let’s talk about what they said here. I mean, this is horrendous. This cannot be allowed to go on with these children being kept in these kinds of conditions. The question is what do we do? What do we do to not allow this to happen?

VICKI GAUBECA I think we can do a lot better than this. I think that there is, sort of, an intentional, deliberate mishandling of this whole situation. And honestly, I think we should take this job away from Border Patrol and ICE. We need to give this job to social workers, medical professionals, to human right people who will ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect that we would all want to feel treated as. I mean, isn’t that what our nation’s values are based on? I think that’s the direction we need to go in. We’re one of the strongest countries in the world and we’re just not using our resources right. And we’re not intentionally creating a space for these individuals so that they can go on with their lives with dignity and in a humanitarian way.

MARC STEINER Well, Vicki Gaubeca, Director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, thank you so much for joining us today. I appreciate you taking the time and I appreciate the work you do for all of us.

VICKI GAUBECA Thank you for having me.

MARC STEINER And as we hit this 4th of July holiday, we do need to think about what we mean by liberty, democracy, and freedom and what’s happening on our borders to women and children and men and families. And we’ll be covering this with some intensity. I’m Marc Steiner for The Real News Network. Have a great holiday. Take care.