By late 2017, Trump administration officials were discussing targeting migrant families. A memo leaked to major US publications discussed the possibility of targeting parents of migrant families and treating their children as unaccompanied and subsequently transferred to the government’s Department of Health and Human Services custody.
In early 2018, the news was riddled with images of children who had been apparently mistreated and in some instances photographed in cages causing a stir and an outcry coming mainly from humanitarian organisations, which called the “zero tolerance” policy implemented in the spring of 2018 inhumane and unconscionable.
To tackle the growing criticism that was dominating the front page of major US news outlets, President Donald Trump signed an executive order in June 2018 to end the so-called “zero tolerance” policy. But, despite the action taken, humanitarian advocates and governmental agencies agree that adult migrants continue to be separated from their children for increasingly vague reasons.
In fact, the American Immigration Council reports that 65% of children are still being removed from their parents’ care because of allegations of crime history or gang affiliation. What is important to understand is that these claims and allegations are very difficult to corroborate and therefore there’s no evidence-based justification for these actions.
The Trump administration defended the controversial choice of implementing the “zero tolerance” policy saying that the situation at the border is both a security and humanitarian issue, comments that are perfectly in line with President Trump boastful claims on the 2016 Presidential Election campaign trail of restoring “law and order” in the United States. However, this administration seems oblivious to the trauma that tearing families apart can cause, leading some to speculate that these incentive policies had been implemented to deliberately inflict harm on children to send a strong message to people thinking about coming to the United States to seek asylum. That’s when things got too far, and an already critical situation escalated to something more troubling.
In this climate of uncertainty and fear, at the height of the “zero tolerance” policy craze, we meet Yazmin Juárez, a migrant woman who was reportedly fleeing an abusive situation at home in Guatemala when she decided to step over the border line to enter the US.
Yazmin was carrying with her a little baby girl named Mariee. They were trying to escape a situation in their own home country that Yazmin refers to as “dangerous to their own lives”. They approached the border thinking that that same fear that had driven them to the “land of the free” was finally in the rear-view mirror.
Little did they know that the nightmare had only just begun.
Yazmin and her 19-month-old daughter Mariee were sent to the intermediate step before being admitted to the Texas facility. This intermediate step consisted of sharing a room with 20 people, and there they reportedly spent several days in a room named “la hieliera”, or “the ice box”, a room without comforts. They slept on a cold, concrete floor.
After finally entering the Texas facility and being examined by a nurse who found both Yazmin and her daughter to be “perfectly healthy”, Yazmin started noticing that there were many sick children around her. Yazmin was concerned. One of the kids, who was about the same age as her daughter, was described by Yazmin as “constantly sleepy” and “having a runny nose”.
Not long after that, Mariee began feeling ill. A few sporadic sneezes and a bad cough, followed by a “runny nose”, were the first red flags. She immediately took her daughter to a physician, despite hearing stories of how the offices were always closed or not properly functional. The physician’s assistant diagnosed Mariee with a respiratory infection, gave her medicine and told her to follow up in six months.
The very next day, Mariee’s condition worsened. She was running a fever, followed by diarrhea and vomiting. Terrified, Yazmin took her back to the clinic. She waited in line for what felt like years. A different physician told her that Mariee was nursing a bad ear infection. She gave her antibiotics. Yazmin left with a strange, sickly feeling in her stomach. She knew something worse was happening. She went back to the clinic several times. Twice she was denied access, the rest of the times she waited in line from dawn until almost dark. That feeling in the pit of her stomach wasn’t gone. In 10 days, Mariee had lost 8% of her body weight, and she was still coughing and vomiting constantly.
After a week, she finally got an appointment with a real doctor. The doctor prescribed her a cocktail of medicines Yazmin had never heard of, but she felt reassured. That aching feeling in her stomach mitigated by a doctor spouting medical terms she had never heard before. Unfortunately, Mariee’s condition was impervious to the doctor’s reassuring words.
Once out of the detention centre, having got clearance to enter the US, Yazmin found out that in the Texas facility they had declared her daughter as “medically cleared”. She looked at her poor child. She didn’t look medically cleared. Yazmin flew to New Jersey to her mother’s house. On their flight there, Mariee was having difficulties breathing.
Mariee was taken to a hospital where Yazmin describes seeing her daughter being “poked and prodded” with needles, and eventually strapped to a ventilator to help her breathe. Mariee was surrounded by wires that reminded Yazmin of what she saw when she approached the border and gave her a strong feeling of inaccessibility. She felt incapable of doing the only thing she wanted: touching her daughter, holding her tight just to remind her little angel, and herself at the same time, that “todo estara bien, amor”.
But everything did not turn out fine. Marie succumbed to a collapsed lung from a respiratory infection and died on May 10th, 2018.
And, along with her, a piece of Yazmin’s heart stopped beating forever.
Nicola Clothier is CEO of Accurity GmbH, a Swiss based employment service provider. Nicola has an Honours degree in English Literature from Stirling University and more than 20 years’ experience in Swiss employment, and personnel leasing up to executive level throughout Europe.