The El Paso Bridge Scandal: A Window into Incarceration and Immigration Policy

Photo: Tamir Kalifa, The New York Times


Border Patrol agents in El Paso, Texas are currently apprehending 570 migrants a day, a significant increase from five months ago when the figure was approximately 100 migrants a day. To handle this population influx, in mid-March, El Paso Border Patrol agents began to temporarily hold migrant families in an enclosed area under the Paso Del Norte International Bridge, which connects El Paso, Texas with Juarez, Mexico. Migrant families were held under this bridge from a few hours to multiple days while they awaited approval for asylum. A large military tent was set up, along with portable toilets, and food, water, and blankets were provided. Photos of these conditions, as pictured above, created a public outcry and added fury to the national debate surrounding President Trump’s strict immigration policies.

Importantly, beds and cots were not provided to these families. N. Rosales, a woman from Honduras who spent three days in the temporary facility, told Buzzfeed News that the tent was not large enough to fit everyone. As a result, Rosales and her son spent multiple nights sleeping on the cold dirt. Gonzales, another migrant, recalled that high winds funneled underneath the bridge at night, causing temperatures to drop dramatically which left his lips dry and chapped. This excuse for shelter that the Department of Homeland Security presents with the addition of a tent is inadequate and denies basic human rights to families seeking asylum in the United States.      

Photo: Ivan Pierre Aguirre, BuzzFeed News

Immigration officials blame the overcrowding on the fact that they have been overwhelmed by a large number of Central American children and families that they are now holding in facilities originally built to detain single Mexican immigrants. Nevertheless, multiple parties have articulated solutions to the problem of migrant overcrowding. Namely, Kirstjen Nielsen, the Department of Homeland Security Secretary, said that one solution would be for the U.S. to reverse policies which enable migrants to stay in the U.S indefinitely because it creates incentive to immigrate. On the other hand, Fernando Garcia, the executive director of Border Network for Human Rights, contends that the U.S should aim to speed up the asylum process. However, as a response to widespread coverage of these inhumane conditions, officials in El Paso say that they will be moving the migrant families from under the bridge to an unspecified place with more space and shelter although the details of this move remain vague.

This incident at the El Paso border illuminates the inherent xenophobia in the agencies of the United States government. Denying people basic human rights because they are not U.S. citizens exemplifies the ugly head of nationalism, which in its most extreme form makes it acceptable to other those from other countries in a way that creates inferiority. When we allow ourselves to internalize this, it becomes justifiable to counter nonviolent, hardworking families seeking a better life with hatred and violence from Border Patrol agents. One must consider how large this outcry would be if non-Hispanic White American juveniles were held under such conditions. The American impulse to incarcerate has disadvantaged people of color for decades, regardless of legal status, based on the fact that they have not enjoyed the same proximity to citizenship.

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