The Trauma of Trump’s Intentional Brutality at the Border

Nora Phillips found out that her passport had been flagged by the U.S. government when she and her young daughter attempted to travel outside the country; when they landed, they were detained for 10 hours before being deported back to the U.S. Phillips cannot leave the country anymore—not even to go to Tijuana, Mexico, to meet with clients—because of this travel restriction generated by our country and circulated globally. 

Her crime? Helping immigrants assert their legal rights.

It’s an atrocity when history repeats itself and innocent children suffer, a sign reads at a protest for immigrant rights. It asks: Where Are My Children? (Alicia Kay)

Al Otro Lado brings Phillips, a lawyer by trade, into contact with clients who have lawful actions against the Trump administration that arise from violations of their rights as migrants and asylum seekers. That legal work recently landed her on a secret blacklist of activists being kept by government officials.

Al Otro Lado’s name makes their mission clear: in English, the name of the bi-national, direct legal services organization serving indigent deportees, migrants and refugees translates to “on the other side.”

The organization has been embedded in such work formally since 2012, but Phillips, one of its founders and an activist with over two decades of experience in the field, has never seen a border crisis like the one unfolding under the Trump administration—which she calls an “apocalyptic hellscape.” 

The Trump administration has pressured the Mexican government to force asylum seekers to stay in Mexico, waiting for their court hearings for entrance into our country using a “metering policy” that only permits a trickle of migrants into the country. Asylum seekers who are forced to stay in Tijuana are stuck in a town where the population has swelled beyond accommodation. There is no room left in local shelters. Families are sleeping on the streets. They are being preyed on by criminals. Girls are being raped. Shelters are being raided. It is a scene of heartbreaking human desperation.

The Trump administration is also threatening to conduct raids using ICE to round up undocumented immigrants in the United States. This threat creates terror in largely Latinx communities across the country.

Terror, once again, is the goal. 

A slew of lawmakers recently went to detention centers housing migrants in Texas and Florida to see first-hand what conditions were like; they reported back on social media and in official statements on a sad show of inhumanity. Children were trying to comfort other bereft children who had been removed from the care of the mothers, grandmothers and aunts who had accompanied them and protected them on their trek to the U.S. border. Mothers were sobbing in the arms of the lawmakers, asking them to help them to be reunited with their children. Despite ample supplies in storerooms, children were not getting toothbrushes and blankets, and detainees were told that they should drink from the toilets in each of their overcrowded cells. 

Around the same time, a secret Facebook group with over 9,000 border patrol agents as members was exposed as being rife with racist and sexist comments about the people they serve. The lawmakers who visited border facilities were themselves subject to derision by hecklers and hostility from facility officials as they held press conferences denouncing these atrocities.

Even Phillips has been traumatized by her involvement in today’s broken immigration system. “Trump is a natural disaster,” she told Ms. “How much blood is on that man’s hands? How do we undo all the wrong that has been done?” 

Here are 10 ways we can all start.

About

Sheila Markin Nielsen is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and author of The Markin Report, a blog on the right side of history and the left side of politics making sense of a world turned upside down.