‘We have to be prepared to be humane’: Exclusive photos show reality on the border


Photo by Justin Hamel

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Immigration advocates on the ground in El Paso say the immigration system is in a dire state right now as migrants risk their lives to cross the border in dangerous ways.

“We don’t have an operational asylum system because there’s still a lot of rebuilding to do that’s creating a more dire situation. There’s a lot of humanitarian need right now,” said Linda Rivas, executive director at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center

The humanitarian need described by Rivas underscores the need to reimagine lawful immigration into the United States as lawmakers, advocates and communities grow increasingly frustrated while migrants sustain severe injury and illness.

Rivas said one family receiving care from Annunciation House and Las Americas, like other migrants, scaled and jumped from the border wall to enter El Paso.

“We’re seeing a lot of people fall off the wall. This entire family was injured climbing and jumping from the wall. The wall is higher than ever before,” said Rivas.

Victor Manjarrez, Retired CBP Chief and Associate Director at UTEP’s Center for Law and Human Behavior says “border security” exists in an abstract sense.

If you ask three people the definition of “border security,” you’ll get three different answers.

There are no defined goals as to what would constitute an “immigration crisis” ending that leads to cracks in the system that have a very human impact.

“We do that with everything else, we look for a finish line. But we don’t do that with some of the more important topics. We should be able to do this function in a humane and dignified way,” Manjarrez tells KTSM.

Bearing witness to the extent of the situation underscores the realities members of the right, left and everywhere in between try to avoid for themselves and their families: 

  • Poverty
  • Persecution
  • Lack of access to education, shelter and safety

Photos licensed by KTSM from photojournalist Justin Hamel show the treacherous route migrant families are taking to cross and the modern safety protocols being followed even in diaspora, such as wearing face masks.

On Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas highlighted the Biden Administration’s efforts to reimagine immigration.

“We are rebuilding immigration after Trump dismantled the system,” Mayorkas told NBC’s Chuck Todd.

But the U.S. faced challenges pursuant to the construction of the border wall a decade before former president Donald J. Trump took office. 

The Secure Fence Act of 2006 resulted in about 57 miles of fence 15 to18 feet high that stretches through El Paso and the surrounding area.

“The situation is bad,” said Rivas. “We have practitioners on the ground with our organization and there’s just more human suffering than ever before, which is hard to even fathom considering what we’ve come from over the last four years.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection data show illegal border apprehensions declined prior to the construction of the fence in 2005. The numbers continued to drop after construction of the fence in 2008 and 2009, in which El Paso’s apprehensions far surpassed the national rate. 

Under Trump, hundreds of miles of walls ranging from 18 to 30 feet tall were erected along the U.S.- Mexico border.

Although apprehensions declined, migrants took their chances crossing at more remote and dangerous locations, increasing the rate of death for migrants.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers are urging the administration to act swiftly.

“Regardless of what the Biden Administration wants to call this current set of circumstances it has created, this surge in illegal immigration carries significant risks. It also imposes a heavy burden on public resources. Congress and the American people must have additional clarity about how DHS and HHS are addressing it,” wrote senators to include Ted Cruz in a letter to the Department of Homeland Security. 

Families who sustain injuries or test positive for COVID-19 receive care from Annunciation House — people can donate here.

Congresswoman Veronica Escobar was recently named co-chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ (CHC) Immigration Executive Orders and Budget Reconciliation task forces. 

The CHC hopes to pass swift and bold legislation to ensure and improve the safety of migrants while also alleviating stress on government agencies. Advocates say the help can’t come soon enough.

“Right now we don’t have a working system and the only thing that is happening is people are crossing over in very dangerous ways,” said Rivas. “It’s really time for us to push against that and imagine a much more humane system by moving away from detention and deterrents. To be prepared to be humane and respect human rights when they migrate to the United States.”

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