A shadow hangs over this year’s 4th July celebrations in the USA, writes Fr Shay Cullen. A nation which used to welcome migrants and asylum seekers is fast becoming fortress America under US President Donald Trump.
They are held in captivity in small, over-crowded, jail-like pens. The unsanitary and dangerous cramped enclosures are their prisons. That was until the photo images of their confinement went viral on social media and there was an international outcry for them to be released and to be treated with care, respect and dignity. They are separated from their natural groups and families. They suffer trauma and sickness and they are in danger of dying.
International personalities visited them and demanded their release. A few weeks ago, some of them were mercifully freed due to the worldwide outrage and concern that put pressure on the government and more will be released in the coming months.
However, the hundreds of scrawny, hungry, dirty, unwashed migrant children separated from their parents and held in camps are not to be freed by the Trump administration. They remain locked up as prisoners in despicable, unsanitary, sub-human prison camps on the US border. These conditions in the Texas Customs and Border Protection facilities violate the rights of the children.
A report in Rolling Stone magazine said that visitors saw despicable conditions. “They found filthy, cramped women and children who had been deprived of basic hygiene and forced to sleep on concrete floors.” One report said due to lack of water, they were told to drink from the toilets.
The “Fourth of July” is a celebration of the Declaration of Independence of the United States on 4 July 1776 and of its Constitution but a shadow hangs over it this year. This nation used to welcome migrants and asylum seekers with open arms. It was a great nation dedicated to freedom, equal opportunity, human rights, justice and the dignity of everyone. These values are being lost to the United States under President Trump. He has closed America to them. It is fortress America, as some say, “a land for us and no one else.”
The debasement of the great humanitarian values enshrined in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence has made many Americans ashamed of what has become of the once kind, compassionate America. The land that was a beacon of freedom and hope for the poor and the needy is in the grip of a policy that is cruel, heartless and totally devoid of Christian values.
This anti-migrant, anti-asylum seeker attitude is seen in equal measure in parts of Europe where governments have allowed the migrants to die at sea and banned them for landing on European soil. Most people in America reading this will have descended from migrants or have relatives or friends that are migrants in America.
The current racist attitude is whipped up by fear mongering. The right-wing white supremacists declare that the migrants and others not like them don’t belong and that America is for the whites only. Yet 41 percent of the population is non-white.
According to the last US census, the percentage of white citizens alone in America is 76.5 percent. Black or African-American alone is 13 percent and American-Indian and Alaskan Native alone is 1.3 percent. Asian people alone are 5.9 percent. Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islanders 0.2 percent. Two or more mixed races 2.7 percent. Hispanic or Latino is 18.3 percent. That is a total percentage of 41.2 percent non-Caucasian people.
America is already a multi-racial society and much the better for it although they are racially divided and Trump has widened the gap.
The children suffering in the detention camps on the US -Mexican border are victims of recent history. The roots of their plight are in the poverty, violence and inequality that their parents are fleeing. This in turn can be traced to the US military and financial support for Central and South American tyrants and dictators and US multinational corporations that caused the great social inequality in their countries.
When these oppressed people rose up and made their Declaration of Independence, they were brutally suppressed with military aid from the United States. The poverty and violence still remain so they decided to come to America to join relatives and friends and to get what was taken from them- freedom, prosperity, and dignity. But they are met with more oppression and brutal treatment in captivity and detention. It is a dark period in the United States of America.
However, millions of Americans are not fanatical, blind supporters of Trump. They are the millions of good Americans seething with anger, enraged at what is happening to their country, to the children, the migrants, the poor, the under-paid, the homeless and the environment. They weep at the negative image of Trump’s America in the world.
Oh, and before I forget, let me explain that opening paragraph about the captives being freed. They were not the children in captivity but the captive whales. Yes, the Russians caved in to worldwide outrage and were forced to release dozens of captured whales into their natural habitat in the ocean. Many more will be released in the months ahead.
But there is no worldwide outcry to help release the children captive in the detention camps on the US–Mexican border. Nor is there much care and compassion to free Filipino street children and stop them being constantly locked up in sub-human, detention prison cells in the Philippines.
Thousands of children some as young as 10 have suffered abuse, hunger, hurt and abuse behind prison bars. The Philippine Congress will now debate once again the amendment to the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Law that will declare 12-year-old street children to be criminals and likely to be put on trial and jailed in detention cells as if there were not enough there already.
In the Philippines, there are already many 12-year-olds in cells with 17- to 18-year-old youths who bully and abuse them. There is no Philippine outcry against this, no worldwide outrage but for the whales, there is. The captive children in the American detention camps and Philippine jails deserve to walk free too.