We cannot look away from abuses on our southern border

On Friday, July 12, thousands will gather in nearly 550 spots across the globe to protest inhumane conditions facing migrants on the United States’ southern border.

One of those “Lights for Liberty” vigils is happening right here in Camas, at 8:30 p.m., Friday. It is one of at least six happening in the Portland-Vancouver region.

The official name of the worldwide effort is “Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps.”

Let that sink in for a second. People all over our own country — as well as in Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Germany — are protesting what they see as concentration camps in the U.S.

We should all be trying to figure out how we got to such a sickening point in our nation’s history.

Associated Press reporters recently shed light on what’s going on in detention centers operated by the U.S. government on our southern border. At a center in Clint, Texas, they found nearly 300 children, including infants, being held in tiny spaces without proper food, water or sanitation facilities.

In late June, PBS ran a story on the conditions facing migrants and asylum seekers on the southern U.S. border and interviewed Warren Binford, a law professor from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.

“Basically, what we saw are dirty children who are malnourished, who are being severely neglected. They are being kept in inhumane conditions. They are essentially being warehoused, as many as 300 children in a cell with almost no adult supervision,” Binford told PBS. “The children are hardly being fed anything nutritious and they are being medically neglected … It’s the worst conditions I have ever witnessed in several years of doing these inspections.”

President Donald Trump has demonized Mexican immigrants for years and fueled the fires surrounding “illegal immigrants” since the start of his presidential campaign. The callousness our president regularly shows people fleeing violence and almost certain death should make all of us cringe.

On July 3, well after the AP reports showed babies living in cages without proper care, Trump tweeted: “If Illegal Immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detentions centers, just tell them not to come. All problems solved!”

The vast majority of asylum seekers coming to our southern border are fleeing from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras: an extremely violent region of Central America known as “the Northern Triangle.”

According to the United Nations’ refugee agency, this part of the world is one of the most dangerous places on Earth and has recently witnessed a “dramatic escalation” in organized gang crime.

Many of the people we are holding in detention centers are fleeing the type of violence that makes crossing a raging river with a toddler strapped to your back seem better than staying in their home country.

“They have witnessed horrific violence and faced extreme risk,” the UN’s Human Rights Council states in its report on refugees from the Northern Triangle. “The needs are growing. Current homicide rates are among the highest ever recorded in Central America … but other human rights abuses are on the rise, including the recruitment of children into gangs, extortion and sexual violence.”

These families are looking to America — home of the free, land of the brave — to help them find safety. Instead, we have let our government’s leaders use them as political pawns, caging them and withholding adequate food, water and sanitation and then telling them they should “just go home.”

It is shameful. And we cannot be the great country we purport to be if we all simply look away.

Of course, the issue also is overwhelming and many may not know where to start.

For those who fear their concerns about abuses on the border won’t make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, Janet Grove, the organizer of the Camas “Lights for Liberty” vigil has some advice.

“It is easy to see so many troubling things and think, ‘How can I possibly make a difference?'” Grove said. “Even when the opportunity to take action arises, I question myself and think, ‘Why this? Why now?’ And the answer is, ‘Because I can.’ Because every action I take to make a difference … is another drop in the bucket that just might make a difference.”

To add another drop to the bucket, join the Camas “Lights for Liberty” vigil at 8:30 p.m., Friday, July 12, in the parking lot of the Camas Friends Church, at 1004 N.E. Fifth Ave., in downtown Camas.