Thousands have flooded across the border into the United States, many of them children, fleeing danger and violence in their own country and hoping for a better life in ours. The refugee crisis has grown to the point where it is no longer possible to ignore, and detention and deportation are only band-aid measures, especially as they take longer to implement. That means many are spending even longer in the country, whether because they have not been detected or because they are waiting to be processed to either stay in the U.S. or be returned to their home country. Republicans trying to thwart any kind of immigration reform or pathway to citizenship make it sound as if those here undocumented are living a dream come true, and yes, for many it is better than what they left behind. Better is often a relative term, though, especially when what was left behind is literally life-endangering.
Here, they are safer, but many are essentially trapped.
The limits an undocumented immigrant faces was dramatically exposed just a week ago when Antonio Vargas, an undocumented journalist living in the United States, went to Texas to report on the plight of those who were entering the country illegally. There, he found himself detained as well, unable to get back onto a plane and return to his home state of California. Although he never crossed a national border, he found himself stuck by an internal checkpoint that essentially trapped him inside southern Texas. “I did not anticipate it. . . . I’d never been to the Texas border,” Vargas told CNN, adding that he was unaware that the area was being treated as essentially a “militarized zone.” Vargas was detained for eight hours because of his immigration status, although due to his high media profile he was eventually released.
Vargas showed the privilege that can come to a high-profile person living illegally in the country near the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, but for most people there life isn’t nearly as simple as an eight hour detention. In some cases, it can even be a matter of life and death.
A detailed and heartbreaking article by ThinkProgress details daily life for those in the Rio Grande Valley, surrounded by interior checkpoints that cut them off from the rest of the country. Inside, they are safe as long as they avoid showing up for work on the day that Border Patrol agents come to do immigration checks, but as a payoff they lose not only their freedom to travel more than a few miles from where they live, but their ability to connect with any of the rest of their families who may be on the other side of those checkpoints.
Some decisions are even more dire, such as one family’s attempt to weigh out whether it was worth evacuating to safety when a hurricane was approaching if it could mean being discovered as undocumented and deported. “When Hurricane Dolly hit southern Texas in July 2008, the family refused to leave their home to evacuate north to San Antonio,” writes Ester Yu-Hsi Lee. “Translating for her father, Roxana said, ‘You have to take a risk and stay at home, but supposedly the government takes you as refugees so that we can go through the checkpoints, but my dad says that we aren’t willing to take those risks.’”
Being trapped in the RGV has become an even bigger issue over the last year for those who can get pregnant. Obtaining any sort of medical care is difficult as an undocumented person, but reproductive health care, especially contraception, is a problem in itself. Unfortunately, the ability to address an unwanted pregnancy has virtually disappeared as HB 2, which passed last summer, has now closed every abortion provider in the valley. Without documentation, it is literally impossible to leave the area to terminate a pregnancy, leaving a person with two options — give birth or try to self-induce an abortion.
Cosmopolitan reporter Jill Filipovic details just how hard it now is to end an unwanted pregnancy for an undocumented person in the RGV. “[M]any Mexican nationals are in the Valley legally on a border-crossing visa, which allows visitors to enter the U.S. for 30 days but only travel within a 25-mile radius, so they can’t cross the checkpoint,” writes Filipovic. ”And if you’re undocumented, as are a quarter of people in the Valley, you’re not going to risk getting caught by immigration officials. All of the highways out of the Valley have checkpoints like the one in Sarita. When the checkpoint means they can’t drive to San Antonio, some women go through with pregnancies they don’t want. Others turn to Cytotec. Still others find out about unlicensed providers who perform cheap abortions out of their homes.”
Undocumented immigrants come to the U.S., knowing that they can be deported, that they may be without work, without family, without health care access, without the ability even to leave if a natural disaster comes their way. Each plight they face they still see as better than their future in their home country. Surely, we have the compassion within us to give them a real way to call this country their home, too?
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