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Expert Voices

Grappling with Hostility and Trauma at the U.S. Southern Border

Published November 20, 2019
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As the humanitarian crisis at the U.S. Southern border remains a crucial point of focus in national policy and current affairs, Americans remain divided on the nature of the crisis itself. Most are well aware that thousands of vulnerable people have fled immediate violence in their home countries in Central America, Venezuela and Cuba to seek safety and a better future in the United States. Still, many struggle to agree on how the U.S. should respond. Mincing no words, President Trump and his administration have taken a firm stance: to block access to asylum. The administration has emphasized that the number of migrants and asylum seekers at the border is staggering enough to warrant a national emergency, and should be addressed by reducing the number of individuals admitted and placing more restrictions on the processes that make it possible.

At CVT, we see things differently.

In our view, President Trump has created a humanitarian crisis under the guise of fixing a nonexistent national security one. “There is,” states Curt Goering, CVT executive director, “an ongoing humanitarian tragedy fueled by the president’s policy choices.” These choices ultimately dehumanize a diverse canvas of identities, vulnerable but tireless in their pursuit of obtaining the safety and freedom that should be guaranteed to all.

This past summer, Andrea Cárcamo, CVT senior policy counsel, met face-to-face at the Southern border with some of those individuals, Central American and Cuban asylum seekers who have been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She visited the El Paso Processing Center – a facility she recalls as seeming “just like a prison” – to assist with the asylum cases of torture survivors, one of whom feared for his safety at the detention center because he was gay. A whistleblower recently uncovered that ICE subjects immigrant detainees to solitary confinement for reasons other than misconduct, like when a detainee openly identifies as gay. As Andrea quickly learned, however, the abuse of LGBTQ+ immigrant detainees by ICE did not end there. A complaint recently signed by CVT in partnership with other humanitarian and advocacy organizations asserts that the mistreatment of LGBTQ+ detainees and people with HIV is pervasive and well-documented, and calls on ICE for better oversight and accountability.

Women and LGBTQ asylum seekers awaiting entry at the U.S. Southern border are also particularly vulnerable, as they face an increased risk of sexual violence. In an effort to address the root causes of the Central American refugee crisis, Andrea recently produced an art exhibition in Washington D.C. with the support of the Organization of American States (OAS) to help diplomats and the public in general better understand and communicate the experiences of women who have fled Central America. Artists and panelists came together for this one-day event to discuss and reflect on why Central American women flee, how policies by the U.S., Central America and Mexico affect their choices (or lack thereof), and what we can do to make things better.

Artist Gerardo Camargo felt inspired to participate because he connected with the plight of women who flee not just to save their own lives, but often their children’s lives too. “I would like people who experience my art to be more sympathetic to the reality of the women portrayed, but not just to view them as victims. We want to demonstrate the magic in how hopeful, strong and brave they are.” Fellow featured artist and collaborator Alison Lee Schroeder agrees. “Something that really struck me about the Central Americans who have fled their homes to seek asylum in the U.S., particularly in the ‘migrant caravan,’ is the energy of the group,” she explained. “While the conversation about this issue in the U.S. is often emotional, it doesn’t include much hope or faith.” CVT is thus actively working to inject strength and resilience into the national narrative surrounding migrants and asylum seekers at the U.S. Southern border, and to advocate for a more responsible and compassionate response from citizens and policy makers alike.

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