In December 2017, I sat alone in a dark cell on a metal bunk bed without a mattress or heat, over 2,000 miles away from my hometown of Gilbert, AZ.
Seven other DACA recipients and I spent six days in a D.C. jail for taking part in sit-ins inside Congressional offices as part of a fight for a Clean Dream Ac t. Standing up and demanding that undocumented youth like us be given the chance to live in this country without fear of deportation, we put everything on the line in hopes of pushing politicians to have the courage we had and pass a Dream Act.
My parents brought me to the U.S. from Argentina when I was 6 years old so I could live a better life than they experienced. They made the right choice, and Arizona is truly the only place I’ve known as home. But as I see photos of children sitting in cages, and I read the reports of minors dying in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody, I can’t help but wonder: What if Trump were the president when my parents came to the U.S.?
I was fortunate enough not to be detained when my family immigrated here. Although life was far from easy growing up during the era of SB 1070, infamously known as the “show me your papers law,” which formalized the damaging and hostile practice of racial profiling, I was still able to attend public school and eventually go to Arizona State University, where I found my voice through activism and local campaigns.
We cannot continue to allow politicians and corporations — who have the power to end migrant child deaths, but instead are profiting from immigrant detention — off the hook, and we must demand justice.
Last week, it was made public that there have been six migrant child deaths during the past eight months. The first death occurred in September 2018, a migrant girl named Darlyn Cristabel Cordova-Valle, who had been in detention for seven months. She was 10 years old. The Trump administration concealed this information from the public — and everyone seems to be going on with business as usual.
Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vásquez, 16, the latest victim of this administration’s policies, died in a detention center from the flu after being held longer than the 72-hour limit — not in a hospital where he should have been. Imagine being a child who does not speak English and have no one protecting you from having to experience these inhumane conditions. These places are made to break you. This violation of human rights should not be happening in the United States.
What were these children going through during their last few moments of life? What were their dreams? Why did they die from completely preventable causes? These are all the questions we should be asking.
These asylum-seeking children died because of the cruel immigration policies being put in place by the Trump administration and due to CBP’s lack of following protocol. Hernández Vásquez; Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7; Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, 8; Juan de León Gutiérrez, 16; Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vásquez, 2; and another unidentified girl whose death was covered up, 10, all deserved better than to have died caged in a detention center. It was our duty to keep them safe.
This is happening in the “land of the free.” We cannot normalize the detainment and death of children and their family members. The outrage must be clear in the same way it was a year ago when we were confronted with audio recordings of immigrant children crying for their mothers. The Trump administration must be held accountable — by us, the American people. We constantly hear Republicans say they are pro-life, yet they ignore the lives of migrant children. If this isn’t hypocritical, I don’t know what is.
While taxpayer dollars are being wastefully thrown at walls and increased funding for ICE and CBP, children are dying and the root causes of this human rights crisis are not being addressed. As Americans, we should be helping countries in Central America rebuild to address the reason people are fleeing to the U.S. As a nation of immigrants, we should fix our broken immigration system to welcome immigrants in a humane and civil process.
The time is now to stand up for justice and humanity — we must end the barbaric practice of family separation and detention of children in cages. We must dismantle the cruel and inhumane deportation programs and detention centers and establish standards for independent oversight of relevant agencies within the Department of Homeland Security.
This is why we need leaders like Bernie Sanders, who will fight for all people, not just those who cast ballots. Bernie supports these policy proposals and believes they should be the standard of basic human rights that we, as a country, guarantee to all people. We cannot continue to allow politicians and corporations — who have the power to end migrant child deaths, but instead are profiting from immigrant detention — off the hook, and we must demand justice.
Belén Sisa is the Latino Press Secretary for Bernie Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign. The views expressed here are her own. She is an undocumented immigrant and DACA recipient who cofounded Undocumented Students for Education Equity (USEE) at Arizona State University.
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