By Medha Palnati
As an American citizen, who grew up in an American school system, I was indoctrinated as a child.
Indoctrinated with the idea that America was the most prestigious, most well-developed nation in the world. Indoctrinated with the idea that America was all-powerful, with abundant resources, equipped to teach and help the countries of the “third world.” Indoctrinated with the idea that our law enforcement officers served the people, were free of corruption, and had our best interests at heart. Indoctrinated with the idea that U.S. law values justice, looks out for the little-guy, and protects the most vulnerable.
Nothing shatters this indoctrination more than time spent at the U.S.-Mexican border. On the El Paso side, as I witness little children sleeping on the street with 110-degree concrete, or on the floor of a high school gymnasium, I can’t help but think to myself that even parks in Juárez have shade, and the shelters in Juárez have beds.
As I see pregnant women go without health care — forgone for the cost, for the fear of detention, for the risks that volunteers take on to transport them – I can’t help but think to myself that even the shelters in Juárez have doctors on site full time.
As I see U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers push young girls off of American soil, saying “you can’t stand there,” knowing well that their actions are a violation of international asylum law, I can’t help but wonder if they are any less corrupt than the Mexican police who kidnap, extort, and rape those same girls.
The way they line up at the border, decked out in riot gear, guns and batons strapped to their waists, results in babies, boys, mamas, and grandpas alike being caught in their traps like animals. Arms gashed into by barbed wire, ankles shattered from a wall-fall, limbs amputated at the train tracks, organ failure from excessive dehydration, I’ve seen it all.
And I’ve heard of worse, of the ones who don’t make it, of the moments that these people realized they had to leave their partner, their child, their parent in the desert because they would die next if they didn’t.
I’ve heard of the babies drowning because of spiked buoys placed by the Texas Department of Public Safety at Eagle Pass, the children decapitated by unsuspecting highway vehicles, the young boys killed in pursuit by Border Patrol.
And yet, we boast that our law enforcement officers are not involved with drugs, not involved with the cartel, uphold moral standards.
I wonder if blindly following our racist policies, these law-enforcement officers are not a gang of their own, with their own kill and deterrence tactics. The only difference being that they are spending money on killing these innocent people, not profiting from it.
The Mexican government, as corrupt as it may be, at least invests money and resources into comprehensive care shelters for migrants — equipped with psychosocial counselors, nurses, physicians, teachers, cooks, and legal case workers, all employed by the Mexican government.
These same salaried professionals in the United States rarely set foot into the non-profit migrant shelters of El Paso, because our government does not, and will not, pay them to do so. Instead, the health and legal aid of this vulnerable population in the United States is often left up to untrained volunteers, who, however well-meaning, are often implicated or culpable in the devastating consequences.
Headaches, backaches, and chest pain are all treated with Tylenol, pregnancy and rashes prescribed hydration, vomiting and diarrhea supplemented by half a dose of penicillin that someone brought across the border split amongst three people.
Volunteers administer prescription medications to the wrong guests, tell women in labor to “sleep off the pain,” and are told not to call an ambulance unless “someone gets shot.” As a result, even the do-gooders, those who risk jail and heat stroke to do what nobody will pay professionals to do, can end up hurting the people that they intend to help.
Instead of investing billions of dollars in spiked buoys, walls, barbed wire, and riot gear, if the U.S. government invested in providing shelter, health care, and legal aid to the most vulnerable, these deaths would be prevented.
We have so much to learn from our neighboring “third world” country. At the very least, we must protect those seeking refuge at our southern border. They did not make the treacherous journey by choice.
At 23 years old, many of the men and women escaping violence who I met at the border mirrored me in age. The only thing separating our circumstances was the country in which we were born.
I met a man my age who saw his whole village massacred. I met a man my age who was physically assaulted by three cartel members. I met a man my age who had all his documents stolen.
I met a woman my age who had four children, one of whom was suffering from severe malnutrition. I met a woman my age with a 7-year-old son who split up with her husband one week after she was separated from her father. I met a woman my age whose 2-week-old son died in detention.
I met men and women my age who were threatened with death to vote for political candidates, or to close their small businesses, or to pay exorbitant amounts of money to gangs whose territories span Latin America. I met boys and girls younger than me who were kidnapped, tortured, extorted, and raped.
These vulnerable people deserve refuge from the horrors they’ve escaped. That is all they are asking for. And instead, our policies shut them out, push them to exhaustion, or send them into different, horrifying dangers. We can do better.
If we indoctrinate our youth with the American God complex, the least we could do, as a nation, is pass and implement policies that protect God’s children.
Medha Palnati is a second-year medical student at Albany Medical College in upstate New York. She spent the summer working with refugees and migrants on the border, with a focus on making health care accessible to the most impoverished.