What The Death Of A 7-Year Old Migrant Says About America

NurPhoto/Getty
NurPhoto/Getty

Imagine you are sitting at an outdoor cafe. Suddenly, on the busy sidewalk in front of you, a small girl drops to the ground, seizing. She’s obviously ill, pale and sweating with fever. You run to her side. You hold her head so she doesn’t hit it on the pavement. You scream at someone to call 911. Someone does, of course, probably multiple someones. Because this is America: we take care of our children.

Unless you’re Jakil Caal Maquin, the 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died of dehydration in US custody after her father turned themselves in to border control at what’s being called “a remote New Mexico border crossing.”

“Lack of accountability, and a culture of cruelty within [Customs and Border Control] have exacerbated policies that lead to [the death of migrants]. In 2017, migrant deaths increased even as the number of border crossings dramatically decreased,” Cynthia Pompa, an advocacy manager for the ACLU Border Rights Center, told ABC News.

My family emigrated to America. So did yours, unless you’re a full-blooded indigenous person. When my family came here, they were welcomed through Ellis Island, a trip on which they passed the statue of Liberty with her immortal words:

Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

All of us who had ancestors go through Ellis Island passed under Lady Liberty’s poem.

Now we refuse legitimate asylum seekers and allow children to die at our hands. Some of us even believe that they deserve it, that it’s not the government’s job, after all, to provide medical care to “those people.”

Take the case of Roxana Hernández. She’s a migrant who came to the US seeking asylum because of the high rates of violence against transgender people in her native country of Honduras. But that’s not enough of a reason for the US to grant her asylum, and she was due to be deported, reports The Cut. Except before that could happen, she died.

ICE says she “died of a heart attack after suffering ‘with symptoms of pneumonia, dehydration, and complications associated with HIV.’” But advocacy groups, including The Transgender Law Center, Diversidad Sin Frontieras, Al Ortro Lado, and Pueblo Sin Fronteras, say that Hernández was brutally abused in custody. Her body shows signs of being beaten with a baton while handcuffed. A joint statement from several organizations says that she was held in the dreaded hielo,  or “icebox,” a freezing cell without adequate food and medical care, and with 24-hour lights, for a stunning five days when she was taken in by the US.

“On May 17, Hernández was admitted to Cibola General Hospital with symptoms of pneumonia, dehydration and complications associated with HIV,” read the statement. “Later in the day she was transferred via air ambulance … where she remained in the intensive care unit until her passing.” Her health issues were caused by treatment that is considered torture.

This is how we care for the most vulnerable among us. Those huddled masses are no longer welcomed. They’re tortured to death, dehydrated, denied adequate medical care until they die.

We are suffering from an empathy deficit here in America. If a white child in our field of vision needs help, we jump to their aid. But if a brown child, if a transgender person, if a mother or teenage boy at the border (Good Morning America reports there were 50 unaccompanied minors in the caravan that crossed with Maquin alone) needs us, we turn our backs. We ignore their needs. We see them as the invading other, as dirty masses who, according to some, are carrying diseases such as smallpox (which now exists only in labs), tuberculosis, and leprosy, which “are going to infect our people in the United States,” reports the The Daily Beast.

We no longer see them as tempest-tossed and homeless. We see migrants as invaders, despite their flight from violence and poverty the US created by meddling in Latin American affairs.

We no longer see them as huddled masses. We see migrants as criminals and deny them asylum, though they may return to death threats in their own countries.

We no longer see them as yearning to breathe free. We see migrants as invading hordes who want to take over our country, as Trump is alleging they’ve done in Europe (they haven’t).

So we allow them to die at our hands. We beat them to death with batons. We let them collapse and die in the deserts: 260 in the last fiscal year alone, according to Good Morning America. We permit a 7-year-old girl to perish of dehydration because we have not seen it fit to staff every border crossing with even the most basic of medical personnel, despite knowing how dangerous the crossings can be. We deny migrants basic medical care and food with impunity.

And America turns its back.