The heart-rending photograph of the lifeless bodies of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, 25, of El Salvador, with his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria, clinging to his back grabbed our attention and reminded us of the crisis we would prefer to forget.
The unfortunate pair was claimed by the Rio Grande River‘s current when the father tried to swim with his daughter as they sought safety.
Adding to the pathos, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, tearfully, described how she watched helplessly while her husband and their daughter were pulled under the waters and washed ashore.
The compelling photograph which captured front pages and top billing on broadcast news forced us, the public, to confront the tragedy, thus stirring our emotions.
Although, we sometimes accuse Congress of being unfeeling and out of touch, Congress members were stirred, as well. On June 27, the House, in a 305 to 102 vote, passed a $4.6 billion bill.
The point was — or should have been — to help alleviate the insufferable conditions that the refugees and — particularly — the children of those refugees — are enduring.
So, should we assume that the woefully inadequate conditions at the detention centers will be improved?
Will life for immigrants on the border improve?
While the Republicans were pleased with their ability to pass the bill, Democrats were less happy.
Apparently, the bill is lax in the restrictions it places on how and when the money is spent. The bill lacks accountability.
Actually, the Department of Defense and Immigration and Customs Enforcement were named, in the bill, as recipients of funds, too. Does that mean funds can be used to make refugees lives worse?
According to an NPR, June 27 article, “The vote marked a serious setback for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had vowed not to accept the Republican-led Senate’s legislation. Liberal Democrats argued that the bill lacked vital migrant protections and caps on how long unaccompanied children can be detained.”
Restrictions in the bill require that the administration notify “...Congress within 24 hours if a child dies in custody, and children will be kept at emergency facilities for no longer than 90 days.” -NPR.
Granted the bill does seem more like a bandaid or a token than a genuine effort to attend to the suffering children. However, if some of the funds are actually used to improve the refugees status, I am not certain that I could vote against the bill. Yes, there is the possibility that instead of relieving human suffering, the money might be used to cause more pain.
However, for the Democrats to achieve anything in the way of refugee victim relief, they need — both, left-leaning and moderate Democrats — to avoid inter-fighting. They must join together, for the fight ahead of them is nearly insurmountable. They cannot afford to be divided. Of course, we can always hope that the Republicans have a change of heart and decide not to follow their leader, or we can hope that the President changes his mind. I am not holding my breath, however.
Although, given the impact of the Ramírez photo, anything is possible. The photo caused many of us to question what kind of nation we are — or have become. Most of us retain a positive image of our country. We think of our nation as the “shining light on the hill” that opens its arms to “...your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!””
Yet, when we look at our border, we cannot help but wonder, “What have we become?”
Actually, if we honestly reflect on our immigraion history, we’ll recall that we did not welcome the Irish, from 1815 to 1860; we even passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882; and the Italians were not wanted in the early 1900s. During World War II, we interred anyone who appeared to be Japanese, whether they were American citizens or not. Plus, we shunned those of Jewish descent, even following the Holocaust of World War II. For more information on our immigration past, visit the History website:
Despite our dismal immigration past, I believe we have had, and still have, a desire to be the welcoming nation that we imagine ourselves to be.
Each group of migrants that has struggled to become a part of our nation has finally succeeded. In time, refugees from Central America will be accepted, as well. Although, I must confess, the path looks longer than the thousands of miles that many of those refugees have already walked.
It is unconscionable for us to turn our backs on the downtrodden refugees at our southern border. We all need to figure out a solution. Holding anyone — much less children — in crowded conditions and not providing basic daily necessities is reprehensible.
Congress really needs to move beyond its petty disputes and make a herculean effort to join together to resolve the refugee problem.
Perhaps — and I shudder at this suggestion — but perhaps the President and Congress should consider following President G.W. Bush’s approach. President Bush called on the military in a rescue effort after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005.
When calling the military to action, the powers that be need to make certain that the action is known as a rescue effort, not a military maneuver.
It can be dangerous to call up the military if there is any uncertainty about the purpose of deploying those troops. We would not want the world to think that we were becoming aggressive toward any of our neighboring nations. We, ourselves, would not function well if we believed that was a possibility. However, our military is resourceful, skilled and capable of dealing with emergencies that involve masses of people. Our military has proven its capacity to provide the basics of food, shelter and other necessities to large groups in need.
Since both Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement still have many vacant leadership positions, and thus, need some time to organize, our military could, perhaps, be called on to fill the gap, temporarily. It could save lives.
We should keep in mind that with the exception of Native Americans, the rest of us are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. And, as such, doesn’t it seem that we should be more welcoming to the latest group of immigrants? Our continued growth and strength relies on immigrants.