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A meal at Annunciation House, a volunteer organization that is helping refugees as they are released from custody and dropped on the streets. Photo:
A meal at Annunciation House, a volunteer organization that is helping refugees as they are released from custody and dropped on the streets. Photo:

How We Value Human Life
— Part 2 —
Boarder Talk

Jul 21, 2019
by Gary Pace M.D.


by Garyn Pace  


Last month, the first part of this article outlined the recent experience. my wife and I had working with migrants in El Paso. The discussion of the immense scale of the problem, with 100,000 people a month being apprehended at the Southern border, and the desperation of the people  coming into this country due to extreme poverty and violence in their homelands continues to be relevant.

A lot has changed in the last month, though. The president has  altered the laws so that Central Americans can be deported back to  Mexico. The horrible conditions of the detention facilities, especially for  children, have been exposed by journalists.  

The two concluding points gleaned from our experience last month:

1) Our government’s response is inadequate to the immigration crisis.  It now appears that the government’s major strategy is deterrence.  The Border Patrol has tried forcefully separating children from their families, building walls, increasing security, and making detention extremely unpleasant (bordering on torture). These approaches make many US citizens concerned about these extreme measures that are inhumane.  

While there, we saw only families, so we had no contact with unaccompanied minors. The conditions in detention that people reported to us included:  


Children separated from parents at border. Photo: credit: Custom Border Protection.

● Extended stays in ICE detention, up to two weeks.  

● Confiscation of possessions and documents (including medication).  

● Often confined in “hieleras,” or iceboxes, kept cold and uncomfortable. Sometimes they went into the “perreras,” or dog  pens—small caged areas.  

● Some cells were so crowded that they couldn’t sit or lie down—several people claimed they were packed so tight that it was  impossible to sit for over 48 hours.  

● Shortages of food and water.  

2) Volunteers in impacted communities are stepping up to  respond.  

Ten blocks from the US/ Mexico border, this two-story, red brick building has been home to thousands of refugees and migrant poor. Photo:

Our time was spent at  Annunciation House,  a volunteer organization that is helping refugees as they are released from custody and dropped on  the streets. They were usually pretty bedraggled and with absolutely no  resources. The work at the safe house was mainly logistics—getting a  shower, food, a bed, clean clothes, medical care, and making contact with  their sponsors (usually family). These sponsors are scattered around the  country and buy bus or plane tickets to get them to their new home. This  work in the shelters was done by volunteers, many were college students  on break, with little funding and in very chaotic circumstances.  

Where a month ago, the border patrol was releasing people into the  US, our government is trying to “out-source” the problem to Mexico.  They are beginning to dump the people back over the border to towns like  Juarez and Tijuana—dangerous border towns without the resources to cope. Very likely, there will be bad outcomes for many of the young people that have been crossing recently. Some volunteer organizations are  working on the Mexican side, but I suspect that they will soon be  overwhelmed.  


So, we left with a lot of respect for the people on the border dealing with this huge influx of humanity. Previously, we spent some time with the  Syrian refugees in Greece, and this wave of migrants seems very similar.  Like in Greece, the government and the international community are not  addressing the need in any reasonable way, leaving it to the volunteer  efforts of churches and other humanitarians. Major shifts in the politics of Europe have resulted from the immigrant influx.  

Are we prepared to absorb 1000 people a day, indefinitely? If so, then  we should come up with a better way to let them in. If not, we have not yet  figured out an effective way to prevent them from making the trip.  

Leaving a loophole that forces people to bring their children in order  to prevent immediate deportation is a setup for the types of tragedies like the deaths of several children in custody so far this year. Yet forcing Mexico to deal with the problem doesn’t seem very humane or effective.  Europe has pushed the problem of their refugees to Turkey and Africa, and  a few weeks ago, we saw an attack on a migrant camp in Libya that led to  several deaths. Can our leaders come together and have productive  discussions on how to deal in an effective and humane way with this  situation?    



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