There are at least a few episodes in the history of the United States of which we are, or at least should be, deeply ashamed. Slavery, our treatment of Native Americans, Jim Crow, Japanese internment camps, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, My Lai, and others. One of those moments occurred eighty years ago today, when the United States government refused to allow the S.S. St. Louis, carrying more than 900 Jewish refugees from Germany, to dock on its shores. Some passengers attempted to cable President Franklin D. Roosevelt asking for refuge, but he never responded. A State Department telegram stated that the asylum-seekers must “await their turns on the waiting list and qualify for and obtain immigration visas before they may be admissible into the United States.”
The ship turned to Canada, but with no luck there either was ultimately forced to turn back to Europe. Ultimately, 254 of the more than 900 passengers would fall victim to the Nazi Holocaust because of the arrogance of the United States and Canadian governments.
Eighty years later … what did we learn from our perfidy in 1939? Not much, apparently, if one only looks toward the southern border of the United States, a border shared with one of our two closest (geographically) allies. Turning away the S.S. St. Louis was cruel, but what is happening on our border is even more so, for we are separating children from their parents, locking them up in cages, treating them as animals, and thus far six of those children have died in U.S. custody. And our government does not bat an eye.Last Monday, Carlos Hernandez Vásquez, a 16-year-old Guatemalan became the sixth child to die in Customs and Border Protection custody since the Trump administration began the fiasco at the border. Felipe Gomez Alonso, an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy, died in a New Mexico hospital on December 24th, Christmas Eve 2018. Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl, died last December 7th. Juan de Leon Gutiérrez, a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy died on April 30th. An unnamed Guatemalan boy age two-and-a-half died on May 14th.
And then there was Darlyn Cristabel Cordova-Valle — a 10-year-old girl from El Salvador with heart defects who died in HHS custody last fall. Her death was kept secret until just last week. Acting Director of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan, testified before Congress in December, but did not notify lawmakers that Darlyn had died in Border Patrol custody three days before. How many more have died that we don’t even know about?
What is being done? Investigations and inquiries. Well, folks, we’ve seen how well those go, haven’t we? Does anybody trust the Department of Homeland Security to be forthcoming, especially after they covered up one child’s death for five months? Does anybody trust Trump & Co to do anything to stop the madness? More to the point, how long until the next child dies? And how many people are literally starving to death on our southern border because our government sees them as being somehow less than human? Don Trump claims that there is a crisis at our southern border … there is a crisis, but it is not the one he pretends it is … it is a humanitarian crisis. This nation is not the victim, but rather the persecutor.
Just as in 1939 when the U.S. government turned away nearly a thousand people fleeing for their lives, today we are turning away people … families, children … fleeing for their lives. The difference is that today we are turning away, or imprisoning nearly 100,000 every month. Do not ever make the mistake of thinking that the United States is a country of compassion, of humanity, for it is not. It is rapidly becoming a nation of white supremacists, of arrogance, of somehow believing that the only lives worth saving are those of white Christians. We have the blood of these six children on our hands, and who knows how many more to come. Think about it.
Clockwise from upper left: Juan de Leon Gutiérrez, Jakelin Caal Maquin, Carlos Hernandez Vásquez, and Felipe Gomez Alonso