The death of a young father and his daughter, less than two years old, while attempting to cross the Rio Grande river between Mexico and the United States, has given a face to the tragedy that occurs every day on this border, and these deaths, for many, are the result of Trump's zero-tolerance policy toward immigrants.
Some 1,500 miles from that border, in Miami Dade County, Florida, a few miles from the mansions of J Lo and Pitbull, the Homestead Detention Center is located, where hundreds of undocumented children live in harsh conditions.
This week the Democratic candidates for the presidency visited the place, one of many spots where the Trump administration has sent children after being separated from their families while crossing the border. On Friday, it was the turn of Senator Kamala Harris, former Housing Secretary Julián Castro, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former Governor John Hickenlooper, confirming what was seen in the first debate of the Democratic presidential primary: the agenda of the increasingly powerful Latino vote became a central axis of the campaign for the presidential elections of 2020.
LPO was present Friday morning when the candidates arrived outside the center and entered the reception, where they were denied entry to the facilities. Outside, in front of dozens of cameras and demonstrators, the candidates, who were in Miami to participate in the first two debates of the election cycle, spoke to the assembled media.
In an exclusive conversation with LPO, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said he expected the administration to "stop separating children from their families." The presidential hopeful said that how "we address these issues, not only migratory but concerning the asylum seekers" should be changed. He answered that he had hoped to enter the facilities and that there should be greater transparency, "especially since these are private contractors, the public should have a greater opportunity to see how they operate."
Hickenlooper said the role of Congress was complex: "This is a classic case of dysfunction in Washington, and ideally, Congress should be working with the president to develop a system that not only secures the border but also guarantees comprehensive immigration reform". He concluded pointing out that the wall is a product of Trump's political vanity: "[the wall] does not solve any problem, and that's all we're talking about."
He suggested that, in diplomatic terms, both Mexico and the nations of Central America "do not have many cards to play, but it is certainly in the interest of those countries and the United States to rebuild their economies and repair communities in Honduras." He added that when he worked as a geologist, he had to visit that country and witnessed it firsthand, "we started in Tegucigalpa, but then we went to La Libertad, up north, I spent several weeks there, it was fascinating, they are wonderful people who deserve to be treated with dignity."
Where should these children be while waiting for their asylum process? "With their families. They should be with their families," the candidate replied.
The Senator and former Attorney General of the State of California, Kamala Harris, declared before the cameras that they need to "defend our [version] of the United States when the Trump administration ignores what is happening with these children, the circumstances in which they arrive, it is a human rights violation committed by the US Government."
Harris promised that, if elected, "the first thing I will do is close these private detention facilities." She said that it was necessary to be clear: "There are people profiting from the imprisonment of children... Who are these children? They are children who fled from the world's murder capitals, who came to our borders looking for shelter. Seeking refuge and security. We take pride in the strength of our country; part of that strength is that we have strong arms that will protect whoever is fleeing."
Since former Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered the criminalization of undocumented immigration, thousands of children have been separated from their parents. Recent testimony from a Justice Department attorney confirmed that in many of these facilities, in places like Texas and Florida, children sleep on the floor, without blankets and lacking such basic items as soap and toothpaste.
Julián Castro, former HUD Secretary under the Obama administration, lamented that the administration and the contractor in charge of the detention center do not want people to see what is happening with the children. "It makes us wonder, what the hell are they hiding? Is it that they're overcrowded? Is it because of the sexual abuse? The emotional damage they've caused to these children?" Castro asked.
"We need to reform the immigration system, it is necessary to protect these children," the candidate said in Spanish to the assembled media.
The candidates recognized the work of the protesters who have been showing up outside the Homestead facility for over a year. Several groups of the Jewish community have organized the protests. One of the organizers accused the government of running a concentration camp; the same accusation that was raised by congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, declared that "nobody is here to take advantage of the United States, they are here fleeing for their lives". And he completed in Spanish: "They are not looking for the American dream, they are fleeing the nightmare of their own countries, and we have to support them."
Buttigieg, however, was criticized by some of the activists present for not approaching the area from where the detention center courtyard can be seen, where the children spend much of their time. All the other candidates climbed on ladders and, from the other side of the avenue, shouting words of encouragement to the children. Phrases like "we are here" and "we are with you".
"The president does not care about our values ??and this is an example of his lack of compassion and heart, and the Republican Party has no guts," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. She said that, if she won the presidential race, on the first day of her administration she'd ban for-profit prisons, and instead, "promote a community-based asylum process, assign lawyers for all, and if they have families and relatives to stay with, we would assign them to be with them".
To a question from LPO, Gillibrand answered that the governments of Mexico and the nations of Central America should provide education and opportunities for their people "and we must collaborate to bring stability to these countries." She also stated that she believed in a Marshal Plan for Central America, like what Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador proposed to President Trump in December.
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