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Refugees: Justice and Ethics Library Display 2020

Infographic about US/Mexico border and the many sets of harms caused by the current and past US immigration policy (Land of Open Graves). See heading Description for more details.


Brooke Belton


Infographic about US/Mexico border and the many sets of harms caused by the current and past US immigration policy (Land of Open Graves).


The US policy surrounding the US/Mexico border causes an additional set of moral harms on asylum seekers and the lack of responsibility the United States government takes for these harms is morally wrong.

This infographic explains these harms through pictures and bullet pointed information. At the top, the title says “ The truth of the US/Mexico Border” in blue and orange and below that is my name and university. This is on a yellow backdrop with a drawing of mountains, a fence and handcuffs to the right. Throughout the infographic are small drawings of suns, cactuses and the desert. The information is split up into four points/categories which are numbered and the top left and bottom right squares are blue while the other two are orange. In the top left section/point 1 is a description of US detention centers, with a quote from The Atlantic, and a description of MPP, an immigration program under the Trump Administration. To the right of this is the second point which includes a quotation from This American Life from an interview with an immigration officer and a summary of harms caused by this policy. There is also an image of children behind metal fences at a detention facility. In the bottom left corner is a discussion of an argument in Jason Deleons’s The Land of Open Graves exposing the use of the Sonoran desert as a killing machine of migrants. There is a quotation from the book in yellow text and a discussion of these points. Finally there is a summary in the right hand corner of all of these points and short discussion of the ethical implications. At the bottom in yellow, is a list of sources and is a list of things the reader can look into for themselves including writing a letter and research.

My section mainly discusses the state and experience of detention centers or modern day “concentration” camps run by the US and current immigration policy affecting asylum seekers at the US/Mexico border today. My quotation from the Atlantic is that, “One pediatrician who visited a Border Patrol facility in Texas observed “extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food.” Photographs show migrants huddled together, languishing in filth behind chain-link fences, some with little more than Mylar blankets for shelter” (Serwer). In these detention centers, people are dehumanized, any “unnecessary” items are stripped from them, they are seperating children from families and punishing them for something they could never control and finally the majority of the government is not even trying to create alternative legal processes for this horror to stop. Instead, it is increasing. 

Secondly, today’s current policy affecting asylum seekers is changing for the worse. A recent example of this being MPP, or the Migrant Protection Protocols, which was created in December 2018 and is where individuals who arrive at the southern border and ask for asylum (either at a port of entry or after crossing the border between ports of entry) are given notices to appear in immigration court and sent back to Mexico. They are instructed to return to a specific port of entry at a specific date and time for their next court hearing. Individuals may be sent to Mexico under MPP at a location far from where they arrived at the border. In San Diego and El Paso, individuals who return for court hearings arrive at the port of entry and are transferred into the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for transport to the local immigration court. In Laredo and Brownsville, individuals who return for court hearings are taken to “tent courts” built next to the port of entry, where they appear in front of immigration judges through video teleconferencing equipment. Under MPP, CBP officers do not ask asylum seekers if they are afraid of returning to Mexico. A person who fears harm in Mexico is required to “affirmatively” assert that fear if they want to be taken out of MPP. Government estimates of the number of people who pass these interviews range from 1% to 13%. Since MPP began, some Asylum Officers who conduct these interviews have spoken out about pressure to deny people and send them back to Mexico, calling the interviews “lip service.” According to Human Rights First, through January 21, 2020, there were more than 816 publicly documented cases of rape, kidnapping, assault, and other crimes committed against individuals sent back under MPP. Multiple people, including at least one child, have died after being sent back to Mexico under MPP and attempting to cross the border again. (American Immigration Council). With all of this evidence, there is obvious moral harm and danger being created by the US government. 

The moral harms felt by asylum seekers often go unseen, including physcial and emotional harm, and even resulting in kidnapping, rape and death, and that are caused by the conditions and policies refugees and asylum seekers are forced into by US policy. In the episode of This American Life titled The Out Crowd, there is a discussion and interviews with many people involved in the MPP process including asylum seekers, volunteers at camps and Immigration officers and all can agree on one thing, there is being harm caused to these people. However this harm is not just the difficulty of immigrating, however it is the mental harm of such an unforgiving and dehumanizing immigration and MPP process/program and the physical harms of being knowingly forced by the US into situations where rape, kidnapping, assault and death are all very common and real possibilities. One important quotation I want to bring out from this episode would be, “Anne (an asylum officer) throws up in the shower almost every day. She has recurring nightmares. She says she can't focus, can't sleep. She thinks about the people she's returned to Mexico all the time. It's nearly 100. But there's one family in particular that she can't stop thinking about, a father and son...The kid was really young. What happened to him? Did this kid get kidnapped? Did he get murdered? It's happening. It's happening a lot...And the-- what's my moral culpability in that? I interviewed that case, and my signature is on that paperwork, and that's something now that I live with. So yeah, I feel-- I feel in some ways that this administration's made me a human rights abuser” (This American Life). An officer who works for the federal government is being so affected by these interviews that she feels her own job and the current administration has made her a human rights abuser. This speaks volumes to the harms caused by US policy to not only those applying for asylum but also those working for them. Not only does the administration force migrants into areas where they are easily kidnapped and raped, but the introduction of Jason DeLeon’s The Land of Open Graves highlighted the known deadly routes through the Mexican/Arizona desert that the US has forced asylum seekers to use as their only option to make their journey. He writes, “The terrible things that this mass of migrating people experience en route are neither random nor senseless, but rather part of a strategic federal plan that has rarely been publicly illuminated and exposed for what it is: a killing machine that simultaneously uses and hides behind the viciousness of the Sonoran Desert. The Border Patrol disguises the impact of its current enforcement policy by mobilizing a combination of sterilized discourse, redirected blame, and “natural” environmental processes that erase evidence of what happens in the most remote parts of southern Arizona. The goal is to render invisible the innumerable consequences this sociopolitical phenomenon has for the lives and bodies of undocumented people “ (DeLeon). These sets of not only emotional and mental harms but also the manipulation of policy into easily forcing asylum seekers into deadly deserts and dangerous gang ridden parts of Mexico is a whole second set of harm that the US seems to refuse to admit to. The US has created a senselessly deadly immigration process and is inflicting pain and harm to its asylum seekers from it manipulating the desert environment to the government's advantage, to the creation of MPP killing hundreds and confusing an already ridiculously low chance process and through its low funded and barely cared for facilities. The US has acted remorselessly towards these asylum seekers and not even truly acknowledging the harm, hurt and death caused by their previous and current policy. The US is knowingly forcing these vulnerable people into situations where death and danger is common.

There are major ethical concerns around this topic and points to the “Pottery Barn Rule,” a part of deontological ethics. Deontological ethics is defined as a theory that suggests actions are good or bad according to a clear set of rules. Its name comes from the Greek word deon, meaning duty. The Pottery Barn rule then connects to this because the US and other countries around the world due to international and humanitarian law have a moral duty to take in refugees, especially from those countries who they “break.” This is where the Pottery Barn rule connects, going back to the Iraq war where Colin Powell warned George W Bush about the pitfalls of invading Iraq and yet the US still entered the war and because of this 4.4 million Iraqis were displaced and the US had a duty to help settle these people, and yet they did not and still have not. Even Iraqi translators in 2015 who had been promised visas had still not recieved them and had to sue the US government for a resolve on their status. Although there is no legal obligation or provision in international law that requires a country to take in refugees, even in a case of war, from 1945 onward, America has played a role of international leadership" in refugee resettlement from countries where U.S. military forces were directly involved and has this ethical and moral duty to do so. The pottery barn rule is is an American expression alluding to a policy of "you break it, you buy it,” and I think the United States here is very much breaking this rule of ethics because of their policies, especially in Iraq for example, it seems like the issues they created and caused in the countries of many of these asylum seekers years ago are coming back in the form of desperate migrants who expect to be welcomed and instead are manipulated, blocked out, dehumanized and pushed away to Mexico or into rape, death, assualt and kidnapping.


688: The Out Crowd. (2019, November 21). Retrieved May 07, 2020.

Serwer, A. (2019, November 06). A Crime by Any Name. Retrieved May 07, 2020.

Policies Affecting Asylum Seekers at the Border. (2020, April 01). Retrieved May 07, 2020.

León, J. D., & Wells, M. (2015). The land of open graves: Living and dying on the migrant trail. Oakland, CA, CA: University of California Press.

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