The children wore clothes soiled with mucus, urine and feces.
None of the children had access to soap or toothpaste, reported lawyers visiting the border detention facilities in Texas. Some had not showered in weeks.
It’s hard to think about the hundreds of children -- scared, cold, sick, dirty, hungry -- held by our government in these conditions, funded by our tax dollars.
Angie O’Gorman, a 71-year-old retired worker for Legal Services in St. Louis, could not look away. Back in February, she called Annunciation House, which operates shelters in El Paso, and said: “I’m available. I speak some Spanish. Let me know when you need a volunteer.”
She headed to the border by herself in late March and stayed for two weeks at the shelter. Families arrived there after being released from the detention facilities run by Customs and Border Protection. They would get food, a clean set of clothes and help with travel arrangements to stay with someone they knew until their asylum hearing. She heard horror stories of the freezing “ice boxes,” where lights were kept on 24/7; of border patrol agents who threw away anything the refugees brought with them, including money and identification cards; of being called “animals” by the guards.
“I know from experience the reasons why people are fleeing Central America,” she said. “I’ve been there.” She’s seen the damage that American policies have done in the countries overrun by drug and gang violence.
The latest news of deplorable conditions in an overcrowded facility in Clint, Texas, didn’t surprise her.
“This situation has been going on for months,” she said. “What I find more intolerable than the suffering is the attitude that allows it to go on.”
People have a legal right to flee their country and apply for asylum. The crisis at the southern border is fueled by the problems happening in the migrants’ home countries.
“I have no answers on how to fix it,” she said. “Nor would I force them back home until we have repaired the damage we have done.”
She couldn’t sit back and simply read reports about what has been happening. After she came back to St. Louis, she asked a few friends if they would donate money toward sending monthly boxes of snacks that the shelter could give to families as they traveled to their friends and family members. Migrant families often spent hours or even days on buses with just a peanut butter sandwich per family member.
She didn’t have to try to convince people.
“People know enough of what’s going on down there to know it’s wrong,” she said. About 20 donors pitch in to send nine boxes of small snacks to the shelter each month. She knows it’s not the healthiest food, but it’s better than nothing.
It’s difficult for some people to understand why some parents are sending their young children alone on such a dangerous journey to the United States.
“It’s so the kids don’t get killed,” she said. “I don’t know if we can get our heads around that.”
For some, it’s easier to blame the parents. The vilification of the migrants and the justifications for the conditions in which they are being held is “a way of saying we can’t accept the responsibility for what we’ve done,” she said.
Providing basic sanitary conditions for migrant children is hardly a matter of resources.
American taxpayers have spent $102 million just on President Donald Trump’s golfing trips. Border facilities have so far rejected offers from Americans wanting to donate the needed supplies.
O’Gorman worked in a clothing storage room at the shelter, where she gave migrants something clean to wear when they arrived. She was surprised to see older clothes turn up in the same room later.
Many of the refugees would hand-wash the dirty clothes they had arrived in. These desperate mothers and fathers would return to the clothing room and donate their only other set of clothing for the next group of people who needed them.
A person’s humanity isn’t measured by what they own.
Rather, by what they are willing to give.