The humanitarian crisis of migrants and refugees at the U.S. southern border has become an example of man’s inhumanity to man. The migrant crisis, like a storm in nature, is destructive and costly. The power of a storm is measured by numbers of casualties. U.S. Border Patrol estimates that 7,500 illegal migrants died in the desert during the period from 1998 to 2018. A 43% undercount is probable (Sojourners magazine, June 2019).

Upon arrival at the U.S. border, asylum-seekers are crammed into cages in detention camps. These camps are run by for-profit corporations like Calibum, Geo Group, and Core Civic which provide guards for the prison system. The holding facilities have become sites of misery and squalor. Overcrowding and poor sanitation facilitate parasite infestation and could cause outbreaks of communicable diseases.

In my refugee’s journey from the Russian front in 1944, my mother and I were transported to a transition camp in Germany about 100 kilometers from Berlin to be “deloused.” Refugees were herded into a shower about 20 at a time. Our clothes were put on a conveyor belt and passed through a heat treatment oven. The intense heat killed all parasites. After the showers, we were sprayed with a white powder to prevent a repeat infestation. Men and women got deloused on alternate days. 

Images of detention camps shown on television networks are not “fake news.” In a TV interview, President Trump said, “The camps are run beautifully.” But in the background the cameras showed hundreds of men held captive in large cages. President Trump’s statement was not just a lie; it was a pathological denial of reality. Only a sick mind of someone out of touch with reality could find beauty in crowded cages.

The cost to U.S. taxpayers to hold the migrants captive is $755 a day per person. By comparison, the price of a room for two adults in Trump Tower in Chicago is $545 per night. (GOOGLE, Aug. 15). There’s something wrong in the disparity of the cost and the quality of accommodations between the detention cages and Trump Tower. Subjecting the people to dehumanizing squalor, captivity, trampling their dignity, and separating children from the parents is inconsistent with the concept of asylum. 

In the detention camps on our southern border, such practice is deliberate. It is intended to be a deterrent, a tactic of psychological warfare against the presumed insurgents. The Geneva Convention rules prohibit abuse of civilians by the military.  Unfortunately, the detainees in the camps are not protected from abuse by civilians, and, in fact, the guards are civilians. The abuses exact an immeasurable price in terms of America’s loss of stature, and it leaves us poor indeed.

Recently the U.S. Supreme Court allowed Trump to divert $3.6 billion of our tax dollars from the defense budget to build his wall. He may be able to keep his election promise, but it’s unlikely the wall will serve to deter caravans of desperate, impoverished neighbors. 

I’m certain, however, that the wall will not hide our nation’s shameful hypocrisy.

Fred Natkevi is a longtime resident of Oak Park.

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