Portland shows compassion while US fails kids on the border

I wanted to write about women’s soccer this week. On Friday, Team USA will play France in a highly anticipated match up of giants in the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The US women’s national team is an inspiration, not only for what they are doing on the field, but also for their fight to ensure that women’s national team athletes are paid the same as men. It’s an important fight in sports, for gender equality and for equal pay for superior work.

That’s what I wanted to write about. That excitement and the joy in world class competition.

But I can’t.

This week, a lawyer for my government — your government — went before a federal judge and argued that migrant children being held in unsanitary and unsafe conditions have no right to toothbrushes, soap, towels or showers.

A group of lawyers visited one detention center in Clint, Texas, last week and found conditions that should cause outrage.

According to the New Yorker, which covered the visit, “The conditions the lawyers found were shocking: flu and lice outbreaks were going untreated, and children were filthy, sleeping on cold floors, and taking care of one another because of the lack of attention from guards. Some of them had been in the facility for weeks.”

The Associated Press recounted the lawyers’ descriptions of the horrible circumstances of children in US custody who were fed nothing but oatmeal in the morning, instant soup for lunch and a frozen burrito for dinner. No fruits. No vegetables.

The water tastes like bleach and mothers scavenger for leftover water in the bottom of bottles to use with infant formula. Kids are left to care for toddlers, all separated from their families.

Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, speaks with reporters following a meeting with fellow Democrats focusing on a path to emergency humanitarian aid to help migrants detained on the southwestern border. Escobar’s district is home to the Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, near El Paso where immigrant children have been detained. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Since the press — our president’s “enemy of the people” — broke the story of the conditions inside the detention center, some 300 children have been moved. According to NBC News, they were shipped off to a “tent detention camp” in El Paso. But as many as 100 were then moved back. It’s chaos.

For the most part, the press has been locked out of the detention camps and has relied on photos distributed by the US government for a look inside.

The Trump administration surely knows the power of pictures, and it has worked hard to make sure that the rest of us can turn a blind eye to the crimes being committed in our name on the southern border.

Children have died. They are living in filth, locked away in cages and in tents.

The US immigration system is broken but so, apparently, is our capacity for righteous anger. These are children — they could be yours or mine — and they are alone, afraid and forsaken.

Portland, where I live, has shown a different way. The city is small and faces a number of persistent challenges, but its heart is big. With support from some surrounding communities and hopefully the state, the city has welcomed an influx of asylum seekers.

The city is overwhelmed by the numbers, but donations and volunteers have poured in to help.

While the demagogues fill the comments sections on newspapers, and our ex-governor and current bartender Paul LePage takes to the pages of the Boston Herald to bemoan Portland’s actions, I am reminded of Matthew 5:14: A city on a hill cannot be hidden.

The United States is that city on the hill for the world. A place of hopes and dreams and the promise of a better future. 

But on our border, the hope is turning to horror. We cannot allow this to be who were are.

On Friday, I’m going to wear my US national team jersey, and I’m going to cheer on the women playing for my country. I’ll be in Portland, a city that makes me proud — not because it’s perfect — but because it strives to be better and do the right thing.

And I’m going to do what the New York Times suggests: I’m going to donate to support refugees, speak up by contacting my congressional delegation, hold candidates for office accountable, and share the ACLU’s “Know Your Rights” page.

I hope you’ll do the same.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.