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Looking for America on the Fourth of July 

Our annual celebration of the country’s founding took place as usual last week, with fireworks and parades and flags. But this year in particular, the celebration seemed hollow. While we were patting ourselves on the back and praising the Founders, the tragedy at our southwestern border continued.

Descriptions of inhumane conditions in some Customs and Border Patrol detention centers have come not only from attorneys and reporters but from the Department of Homeland Security itself. Some centers have been so overcrowded that detainees literally have had no place to sit or lie down. Crowds of people have been crammed together in cages.

In Clint, Texas, the detention center that symbolizes the depth of the crisis, hundreds of children have been held for weeks without their parents, without showers, without beds, without clean clothes, without hot meals, some without vital medicine. Traumatizing children is now one of the ways we enforce our immigration laws.

Under a US-Mexico agreement reached in June, we’re returning Central American asylum seekers – adults and children – to Mexico to wait for months, without sufficient, safe shelter and food, for their US immigration court hearing.

Thousands of Border Patrol agents have been members of a private Facebook page, where some of them have shared anti-immigrant, sexist, racist, violent posts.

The United States isn’t the only country wrestling with the challenges of immigration, of course. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 100,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean last year, desperate to get to Europe. More than 2,200 additional migrants drowned trying to make the trip.

The photo of Óscar Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter lying dead on the bank of the Rio Grande sparked outrage in this country late last month. Four years ago, so did the photo of little Alan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian child, sprawled face down on a beach in Turkey.

Here, as in Europe, many of the immigrants are fleeing horrors in their own countries: violent gangs, death threats, government persecution. Others are simply seeking a job and a better life for their family. And despite the risks they face, they keep coming.

It’s impossible for this country to admit everyone who wants to come here, but insisting on adherence to the law is one thing. Failing to provide humane treatment for desperate people is another.

We do need to reform our immigration policy. But that will have to be done through a bipartisan effort, the chances for which are growing smaller in this deeply divided country. Chances also seem slim that the country can overcome the racism – fueled by the president himself – that is so profoundly influencing current immigration policies.

In his Fourth of July address to the nation, President Trump provided a lengthy, and selective, history lesson. “Together,” he said, “we are part of one of the greatest stories ever told, the story of America. It is the epic tale of a great nation, whose people have risked everything for what they know is right and what they know is true.”

The United States’ story, Trump said, “is the saga of 13 separate colonies that united to form the most just and virtuous republic ever conceived.”

That’s not a complete picture of the republic I see, and it’s not the history I’ve read. Sadly, all the fireworks, Blue Angels fly-overs, and self-congratulatory speeches we come up with won’t change the reality: The tragedy at the border isn’t an outlier in the story of this country.

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