Saturday 20 July 2019

Harrowing image of drowned father and daughter highlights migrants' border peril

A member of the Mexican National Guard keeps watch as a migrant family walks on the banks of the Rio Bravo river after crossing illegally into El Paso, Texas, United State
Picture: REUTERS/Carlos Sanchez Colunga
A member of the Mexican National Guard keeps watch as a migrant family walks on the banks of the Rio Bravo river after crossing illegally into El Paso, Texas, United State Picture: REUTERS/Carlos Sanchez Colunga
Outgoing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner John Sanders (left) participates in a news conference with U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham Picture: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Protesters hold a candlelight vigil at the perimeter fence securing the Border Patrol station where lawyers reported that detained migrant children were held unbathed and hungry on June 25, 2019 in Clint, Texa Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Nomaan Merchant

The human costs of the migrant surge across the US border were driven home this week by a searing photo of the bodies of a Salvadoran man and his nearly two-year-old daughter, face down in shallow water along the Mexican side of the Rio Grande.

On Sunday, two babies, a toddler and a woman were found dead on the Texas side, overcome by the sweltering heat.

The bodies of a Salvadorian migrant and his daughter are seen at the Rio Bravo river in Matamoros, in Tamaulipas state in Mexico
Picture: REUTERS
The bodies of a Salvadorian migrant and his daughter are seen at the Rio Bravo river in Matamoros, in Tamaulipas state in Mexico Picture: REUTERS

Six children have died since September after being detained by border agents.

Now, the acting head of the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has resigned amid an uproar over the discovery of migrant children being held in pitiful conditions at one of the agency's stations in Texas.

John Sanders's departure deepened the sense of crisis and added to the rapid turnover inside the agencies responsible for enforcing US President Donald Trump's immigration priorities as the US deals with record numbers of migrant families coming across the southern border.

The unprecedented surge of migrant families has left US immigration detention centres severely overcrowded and taxed the government's ability to provide medical care and other attention.

The Trump administration has faced a barrage of criticism in recent days over conditions inside the Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas, first reported by The Associated Press: these include inadequate food, lack of medical care, no soap and older children trying to care for toddlers.

READ MORE: Joe Biden says Donald Trump ‘subverting American values’ on immigration

In a message to employees, Mr Sanders said he would step down on July 5. He did not give a reason for leaving.

"Although I will leave it to you to determine whether I was successful, I can unequivocally say that helping support the amazing men and women of CBP has been the most fulfilling and satisfying opportunity of my career," he said.

Hours after Mr Sanders's departure became public, two officials told The Associated Press that he was being replaced by Mark Morgan, who was named acting director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement just last month.

In an interview last week, Mr Sanders blamed the problems in detention on a lack of money and called on Congress to pass a $4.5bn dollar (€3.96bn) emergency funding bill to address the crisis.

The US House of Representatives approved the legislation on Tuesday night, setting up a showdown with the Senate where Republican leaders plan approval of a different, bipartisan bill this week that does not offer as many protections and services for migrants.

At the White House, Mr Trump said that he did not ask for Mr Sanders's resignation - adding that he does not think he has ever spoken to the man - but that he is "moving some people around into different locations" amid the crisis.

READ MORE: US president reveals plans for mass arrests of immigrant families 

While activists welcomed Mr Sanders's departure, Mr Trump defended US border authorities, saying: "The laws are so bad and the asylum rules and laws are so bad that our Border Patrol people, who are so incredible, aren't allowed to do their jobs."

An official from Customs and Border Protection said on Tuesday that the majority of the roughly 300 children detained at Clint last week had been moved to facilities operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

But around the same time Mr Sanders announced his resignation, his agency said officials had moved more than 100 children back to the station.

CBP is the agency that apprehends and first detains migrant parents and children crossing the Mexican border.

CBP's facilities at the border were almost all built when most people crossing into the US illegally were single adults.

Now, the agency is apprehending tens of thousands of parents and children weekly. It recorded 84,500 apprehensions of adults and children travelling together in May.

PA Media

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