THE RECENT INFLUX of refugees and asylum seekers at the southern U.S. border has begun to overwhelm the system of immigration detention and administration, which is leading to its breakdown. The concrete result is that both adults and children are dying at the border or while in Border Patrol custody.
The December 8, 2018, death of Jakelin Caal Maquin brought the story to light. She and her father crossed the border as asylum seekers two days prior, having fled Guatemala’s political, economic and gang-related chaos. When taken into custody by Customs and Border Patrol agents, Jakelin and her father were not given a medical exam. They and over 160 others were herded into an unheated loading bay, forced to sleep on the cold concrete.
By the time the bus arrived to take them to the detention center, the father was telling agents that Jakelin was sick. By the time they arrived, she was not breathing. After being briefly revived, Jakelin was rush to a hospital in El Paso, Texas. She died about 15 hours later of acute dehydration, shock and liver failure.
Jakelin was not the first child to die in Border Patrol custody in 2018. Last May, 21-month-old Mariee Juárez died after being exposed to illnesses in a CBP detention center, being unable to get a proper medical examination and being given improper medication.
Moreover, less than three weeks after Jakelin’s death, 8-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, another refugee from Guatemala, died in the late hours of Christmas Eve from an as-yet-undisclosed illness. At first, doctors in the U.S. diagnosed Felipe as having the common cold and fever. However, after he began complaining of nausea and vomiting, he was admitted to the hospital, where he succumbed to his illness.
Death along the U.S.-Mexico border is nothing new. In 2018, 281 deaths were recorded. This is down from 297 the year before and much lower than the peak of 471 in 2012. But a large reason for the reduced numbers has been the net drop in border crossings and deportations under the Barack Obama administration.
CBP officials claim that in-custody deaths are “extremely rare” — by which they mean that there were 22 such deaths in custody since the beginning of 2017, not including the three children mentioned in this article. Among those included is Roxana Hernandez, a transgender woman and refugee from Honduras who died after being in custody for less than two weeks.
The increased scrutiny of the CBP and Department of Homeland Security resulting from these deaths is, as one might expect, prompting the exploiting classes — Republican and Democrat — to call for bigger budgets, more CBP and ICE agents, and expanded detention camps for the growing numbers of families arriving as refugees and asylum seekers.
But under decaying capitalism, even refugees and asylum seekers fleeing violence and repression are seen as a weapon to be used to stoke nationalism and xenophobia as a means to maintain power and further disorganize the working class. Thus, the politicians and their media transform these people into “invaders.”
While all those seeking asylum in the U.S. should be admitted without delay or detention, and should have full citizenship rights upon admission, communists understand that it will take workers’ revolutions and workers’ control of immigration to create the open and developed society that every worker seeks out.