by Mikhayla Stover
Her name was Mariee Juárez.
Mariee and her mother Yazmin were forced to flee Guatemala in 2018. At the time, Mariee was just a little baby. In nearly every picture you can find, she looks at the camera with a cheeky, toothless grin. Yazmin hoped that the United States would be a place where her little girl would grow up with “a better, safer life.” And then, there was Dilley.
Dilley, or the “South Texas Family Residential Center” is the largest internment camp for immigrants in the United States. Every year, it’s used as a base for the incarceration of hundreds of women and their children.
It was at Dilley that Mariee and Yazmin ended up in after a journey of roughly 1,500 miles. Once there, they were packed into a single room of 12 other people. Mariee was sick within a week. Yazmin took her to the camp’s clinic, which gave Mariee some Tylenol and honey for her cough and told Yazmin to follow up in six months. By the next day, Mariee had a fever of 104 degrees, along with vomiting and diarrhea. Within 10 days, she had lost almost 8% of her body weight. Eventually, ICE deigned to process Yazmin and Mariee out of detention so that they could go to Yazmin’s mother in New Jersey. Yazmin immediately sought medical care for Mariee, but her little body had been fighting a viral lung infection almost entirely unassisted for weeks. Mariee died on May 10, 2018 – the day that Guatemalans celebrate Mother’s Day. She wasn’t even two years old.
Yazmin and Mariee’s story is one of hundreds from the Trump administration. But what most don’t know is that Trump alone isn’t to blame. You see, Yazmin and Mariee may have been detained in the Trump administration, but Dilley, the internment camp where they were held, was built by the Obama administration, when Joe Biden was Vice President.
At a primary debate in June, when it was pointed out that Obama had deported over three million immigrants, Biden praised Obama’s immigration policies.
“President Obama, I think, did a heck of a job. To compare him to what this guy’s doing is absolutely – I find [it] close to immoral.”
This, for me, is what defines Joe Biden when it comes to immigration. For him, the best thing he can think to do for immigrants is simply to pretend as if Trump had never happened. It seems as if, in his mind, whatever Obama did was good enough for him. His pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, was the deputy Secretary during the Obama years.
His immigration plan itself remains woefully short of anything which would meaningfully improve the lives of immigrants. A broken system which gives the government every possible advantage and immigration judges nearly unrestrained power over the lives of those subject to their authority? Let’s add more judges and courts to make it bigger! An internment camp system responsible for mass illness, death, and pain? Ending it is too much, but we can try some alternative case management systems for those we deem worthy of not dying a slow death on the cement floors of their cells. The atrocities committed by ICE and CBP agents are known to anybody who has watched any immigration story over the last four years, but Biden’s plan gives them only a single line, where he promises to ensure that they “abide by professional standards” by giving them yet more funding.
To make matters worse, Biden and his incoming administration have barely been enthusiastic about even these uninspiring and derivative policies. In an interview in December, Biden said that he wanted to undo Trump policies which have obliterated asylum and legal protections for immigrants, but that it would “take time…. probably the next six months.” His reasoning for doing so is that he wants to make sure that America doesn’t end up with “2 million people on our border.” This is Biden’s priority to avoid. The worst thing he can think of is more immigrants at the border.
The night he was elected, President-Elect Biden promised that his administration would be “a time to heal.” But as we head into Inauguration Week, all I can ask myself is how many immigrants will die before he decides that his administration should be a time to grow.