Shouldn’t we care?

The bodies of 25-year-old Salvadoran Óscar Martínez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria rest along the Río Grande where they drowned attempting to cross into Texas on June 24.
The bodies of 25-year-old Salvadoran Óscar Martínez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria rest along the Río Grande where they drowned attempting to cross into Texas on June 24. Agencia EFE

An unforsaken stretch of Sonoran Desert populated mostly by sagebrush, tumbleweeds and rattlesnakes is the last place you would expect an act of humanity to occur.

But, that is exactly what happened on a March evening in 1968 at the U-Bar Ranch tucked away in the southern panhandle of New México.

The ranch, a good 2½-hour school bus ride each way on mostly gravel road to Animas High School, had seen better days. Only two of about a dozen houses were suitable for living, which my stepfather and his father decided was good enough.

A company store had long emptied its shelves of goods, but it served as a play area for my brother and two sisters. Grocery shopping was done in Deming or across the state line in Bisbee, Arizona.

This is where J.R. Shockley and his father, Perry, grew alfalfa, cut it and baled it for an owner I never met. Irrigation brought this part of New México to life, and farm ponds held a treasure of good-tasting bass and catfish.

That March evening, we all sat down for a dinner of fish, cornbread, (my stepfather traced his roots to Arkansas), and some type of vegetable. And, plenty of sweet iced tea.

A couple of hours after dinner, there was a knock on the door. The nearest neighbor, the school bus driver, lived about 5 miles away. And, she rarely visited except to pick up the school-bound children in the pre-dawn darkness.

I remember there were two men clad in dust-covered boots, jeans and dirty shirts who showed up at the U-Bar. Most likely they were undocumented Mexicans who trekked northward in search of work. This was decades before the drug trade turned the border upside down.

Dinners of leftover fish and cornbread and other fixings were prepared for the men, who left afoot shortly after finishing their meal.

An act of kindness in the middle of nowhere.

I bring this up only because of the recent events regarding the treatment of immigrants and their children who seek asylum in this country.

America lost its humanity the day Óscar Martínez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria drowned while trying to cross the Río Grande near McAllen, Texas.

America misplaced its heart when reports surfaced that children who had been wrested from their parents were kept in deplorable conditions with no access to toothbrushes, a comfortable place to sleep or adequate medical care.

This should not be about politics.

Nor should it be about deflecting blame.

And, it should not be about criminalizing an act for asylum seekers that has been legal for decades.

We need to realize that human beings are human beings, and they should be treated accordingly.

Apparently, many but not all Americans mocked these immigrants fleeing a violent homeland. A U.S. Border Patrol agent even posted a photo on a private Facebook page and wondered if the drowned bodies were were because they looked too clean to have traveled such a vast distance.

Even when inhumane conditions at Border Patrol detention centers in Texas were reported by the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security, some folks defended the conditions by stating the centers were most likely a better place for them than the immigrants’ home life.

The report – ‘Management Alert-DHS Needs to Address Dangerous Overcrowding and Prolonged Detention of Children and Adults in the Rio Grande Valley’ – should have been a call for action.

The report basically corroborates descriptions by Congressional members, lawyers and others who have visited these facilities.

Instead, the president and others defend an America that is most un-American in its treatment of huddled masses.

At least Nayib Bukele, who took office as El Salvador’s president a month ago, is honest.

“People don't flee their homes because they want to, people flee their homes because they feel they have to,” Bukele said in an interview with the BBC. “Why? Because they don't have a job, because they are being threatened by gangs, because they don't have basic things like water, education, health.

“We can blame any other country but what about our blame? What country did they flee? Did they flee the United States? They fled El Salvador, they fled our country. It is our fault.”x

These immigrants have names. They have families. They have emotions just like you and me. They have dreams. They have strengths. They have weaknesses. They deserve better treatment.

We need another act of kindness as a nation that has been looked at throughout the world as one that cares for the downtrodden.

Juan Esparza Loera has been editor of Vida en el Valle since it first published in August 1990. Send questions or suggestions to: jesparza@vidaenelvalle.com