After traveling to El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico, recently to witness what is happening along our southern border since the institution of what is officially known as the Migration Protection Protocols program,  I found myself wondering why the word “protection” is in this title because there was no evidence of protection anywhere.

The United Nations released a statement declaring that the more than 55,000 people stranded on the Mexican/USA border comprise one of the largest refugee camps in the world. On the doorstep of the richest, most powerful nation on Earth are refugee camps. And winter has arrived there.

Reflecting on the people I saw and met, I remember people who were scared, cold, and hungry. They shared stories of  fleeing violence and intense poverty. They were kind, shy, and appreciative. As I helped make burritos and pass out warm clothing, a young mother said, “Thank you for not forgetting us.” In Juarez alone, a city listed by our government as one of the most dangerous cities on Earth, there are over 17,000 asylum seekers without adequate shelter, water, food, or medicine. They are living unprotected, among intense cartel violence, which is often as bad as the violence they fled. They are waiting indefinitely for their asylum hearings. This is not how our immigration system has worked in the past.

The cruel intention of this policy and the way in which these asylum seekers are treated once they reach our border are incredibly difficult to imagine. Yet family after family shared stories of inhumanity in the treatment they received as they came through legal ports of entry along our border.

In particular, they all shared their experiences in “Las Hieleras,” or “iceboxes” – holding cells that are kept intentionally cold. The news has shown photos of these cells with many people huddled together with crispy, thin, Mylar blankets trying to stay warm. But what photos don’t share is how very cold these cells are and how often these traumatized people are put in them. One mother, through tears, told us about her young son and how he struggled in the cell.

When he came over to us, we could see the damage to the left side of his face from frostbite from being in an “icebox.” When the pastor who runs the shelter tried to explain to another woman that her asylum hearing was coming up, she burst into tears. She shared that she didn’t want her children back in the “icebox.” He explained that every time they come back across the U.S. border they are put in one. Sometimes for hours; sometimes for days. I struggle to believe that there are Americans who think it is acceptable to put anyone, including women and children, in such places. We need to be clear that this is torture. Torture for simply seeking asylum, which is legal under national and international laws.

If we take the time to research Central America’s history with the United States we learn that our policies over the past 100 years have caused the destabilization of the area that led to this humanitarian crisis, beginning with the taking of land in Central America to grow fruit for the United Fruit Company to the consequences of NAFTA and climate change. We learn that these vulnerable people are pawns in this unjust history and we all know that this treatment goes against the religious teachings of all faiths.

Please call our representatives. Tell them to demand we restore humanity back into our immigration policies by ending the “Migrant Protections Protocol Program” and the use of “iceboxes.”

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