The Inevitable Migrant PTSD Crash

Overcrowding at the Border Patrol Station in McAllen, TX in June 2019. Photo: Department of Homeland Security, Inspector General’s Office

A humanitarian crisis continues to burn at the U.S./Mexico border with no signs of relief, images of abuse, splashed across our screens for months now. And we’re not even seeing the worst of it. Our government is hiding it.

Thousands of people are fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries in Central America. It is their right to apply for asylum in the United States, but the American justice system is failing them, showing them no mercy. Instead, our government is throwing them into what amounts to jails, tossing children into cages like they are animals and separating them from their mothers and fathers.

A disturbing photograph of a dead man and his two-year-old daughter, floating face down in the Rio Grande after an unsuccessful border crossing, has become emblematic of the crisis at the border.

There is no other word for it: This is trauma, and indelible scars will be left on these migrants’ psyches, especially the children’s. The trauma will eventually lead to major depression and anxiety, according to a study by the scientific journal Social Science & Medicine.

The conditions are so dire that it is clear that these migrants, including very young children and babies, will experience posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the future.

Even horrendous sexual assault is happening at the border. A 15-year-old Honduran girl told authorities she had been groped in a routine pat-down, an officer touching her underneath her bra, pulling down her underwear, and touching her genitals in public view. The girl told authorities “she felt embarrassed as the officer was speaking in English to other officers and laughing” while it happened, according to a report of her account.

“I think they do a great job with those facilities,” Trump told reporters at the White House last week. “I’ve seen some of those places, and they are run beautifully. They’re clean. They’re good. They do a great job. ”He added that Customs and Border Protection are doing a phenomenal job.

Trump promises mass deportations “fairly soon,” according to a recent article in the Washington Post.

In his typical soulless fashion, President Trump has declared that “many of these illegal aliens are living far better now than where they” came from, “and in far safer conditions,” he said on Twitter last week.

“No matter how good things actually look, even if perfect, the Democrat visitors will act shocked & aghast at how terrible things are.”

Overcrowding at Border Patrol’s Weslaco, TX, Station. Photo: Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General

Lawyers and journalists have barely been shown the worst of it, most of them shielded from the madness inside by our government. Several senators have called these facilities “concentration camps.” Even Holocaust survivors have agreed that these overcrowded ersatz prisons could be called by that term.

People are dying. Last week a Nicaraguan man became the twelfth person to lose his life in custody of the American immigration authorities since September.

The word we rarely hear is “refugees,” and that is exactly what these migrants are. There is no sympathy for refugees in the Trump administration. There are only concentration camps.

A 2007 study published in Braz J Psychiatry found that the prevalence of PTSD among migrants is 47 percent, a figure that will most likely rise given the new overcrowded and abominable conditions at the border.

At a border station in Clint, TX, children with high fevers and the flu are being denied medicine or any kind of health care. Some of the kids have been at the facility for nearly a month. There are outbreaks of scabies, shingles, and chicken pox.

Toddlers who are not potty trained are walking around — their diapers having already been soiled and thrown out — and going to the bathroom in their pants. Older kids who are seven or eight have taken it upon themselves to look after the younger ones.

Children report not getting enough to eat: a little bit of oatmeal in the morning and a frozen burrito for dinner. The migrants are enduring extremely cold conditions in their cells, sleeping on concrete under aluminum foil blankets, lights on all night.

This is all in spite of the fact that U.S. Border Patrol Chief of Operations Brian Hastings has said there are ample supplies, so much that a lot of the facilities “look like Costco.”

Most of the young detainees have not been able to shower since they arrived and are not being given toothbrushes, toothpaste, or soap.

According to the New York Times, there is reportedly a stench.

“Officers were keeping women in cells w/ no water & had told them to drink out of the toilets,” Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez tweeted last week. “This was them on their GOOD behavior in front of members of Congress.”

“I brought it up to their superiors,” she continued. “They said ‘officers are under stress & act out sometimes.’ No accountability.”

Overcrowding is a desperate problem throughout all of the detention centers, including El Paso, TX. Back in May, the Department of Homeland Security warned of “dangerous overcrowding” at the city’s border processing center, with 900 human beings being held at a station designed to hold 125.

There have even been pictures of holding pens so crowded the detainees cannot sit, only stand, requiring migrants to sleep standing up if they can at all. In other cases, facilities designed to hold 35 people are holding 155.

“Border Patrol agents told us some of the detainees had been held in standing-room-only conditions for days or weeks,” the inspector general’s office said in its report, which pointed out that some migrants were observed standing on toilets in the cells “to make room and gain breathing space, thus limiting access to the toilets.”

Gov. Greg Abbot of Texas recently announced the deployment of 1,000 National Guard troops to help with the overflow of the nearly 45,000 people from 52 countries who have fled their homes in Central and South America for what should be greener pastures in the U.S.

“The crisis at our southern border is unlike anything we’ve witnessed before and has put an enormous strain on the existing resources we have in place,” Abbott said. “Congress is a group of reprobates for not addressing the crisis on our border.”

According to CNN, Trump said on Sunday that he now wants the press to see the border detention sites.

“I want the press to go in and see them,” Trump said. “We’re going to send people in. We’re going to have some of the press go in.”

But will he follow through?

This Friday, July 12, protesters have planned an international demonstration drawing attention to the migrant crisis. The event, Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps, is taking place in cities across the U.S. as well as abroad, including in Barcelona, London, Paris, Berlin, and Tokyo.

In this election season, I for one am hoping for a big turnout. Because immigrant rights are human rights — and while the psychological damage has already been done, this catastrophe needs to end now.

Conor Bezane is a writer who covers mental health. He’s contributed to MTV News, AOL, and VICE. His first book The Bipolar Addict is available now on Amazon.

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