The Perils Of Immigrants

Ken AshfordCongress, Immigration and Xenophobia, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

This photo hit the public yesterday and went viral.

The man and his 23-month-old daughter lay face down in shallow water along the bank of the Rio Grande, his black shirt hiked up to his chest with the girl tucked inside. Her arm was draped around his neck suggesting she clung to him in her final moments.

The searing photograph of the sad discovery of their bodies on Monday, captured by journalist Julia Le Duc and published by Mexican newspaper La Jornada, highlights the perils faced by mostly Central American migrants fleeing violence and poverty and hoping for asylum in the United States.

According to Le Duc’s reporting for La Jornada, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, frustrated because the family from El Salvador was unable to present themselves to U.S. authorities and request asylum, swam across the river on Sunday with his daughter, Valeria.

He set her on the U.S. bank of the river and started back for his wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, but seeing him move away the girl threw herself into the waters. Martínez returned and was able to grab Valeria, but the current swept them both away.

Details of the incident were confirmed Tuesday by a Tamaulipas state government official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, and by Martínez’s mother back in El Salvador, Rosa Ramírez, who spoke with her daughter-in-law by phone afterward.

“When the girl jumped in is when he tried to reach her, but when he tried to grab the girl, he went in further … and he couldn’t get out,” Ramírez told the AP. “He put her in his shirt, and I imagine he told himself, ‘I’ve come this far’ and decided to go with her.”

As I write this, Elizabeth Warren is visiting a detention center in Florida, ahead of tonight’s first Democratic debate:

And yesterday a divided House voted to send $4.5 billion in humanitarian aid to the border to address horrific conditions facing a crush of migrants, attaching significant rules on how the money could be spent in the first action by Democrats to rein in President Trump’s immigration crackdown.

But the package — which passed by a vote of 230 to 195 nearly along party lines, only after Democratic leaders toughened restrictions on the money to win over liberal skeptics — faces a tough path to enactment. A similar measure with many fewer strings binding Mr. Trump has drawn bipartisan support in the Senate. And the House bill faces a veto threat from White House advisers, who regard the Senate bill as the surest way to speed the needed aid to strapped agencies dealing with the migrant influx.

Hours before the House bill passed, Mr. Trump said that he did not like some of the restrictions that lawmakers were seeking to place on the humanitarian funding, but that he badly needed the resources.

It looks like all this is coming to a head.

Public sentiment has been slow to show outrage, but that is starting to change.

Employees of the online housewares giant Wayfair announced Tuesday that they would stage a walkout at the company’s Back Bay headquarters on Wednesday to protest its decision to sell furniture to the operators of facilities for migrant children detained at the southern US border.

Last Wednesday, they learned that a $200,000 order of bedroom furniture had been placed by BCFS, a government contractor that has been managing camps at the border. More than 500 employees signed a letter of protest sent to company executives. When the company refused to change course, employees organized the walkout.

“Knowing what’s going on at the southern border and knowing that Wayfair has the potential to profit from it is pretty scary,” said Elizabeth Good, a manager on the engineering team at the company and one of the walkout’s two dozen organizers. “I want to work at a company where the standards we hold ourselves to are the same standards that we hold our customers and our partners to.” 


Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Services announced plans to house 3,000 to 4,000 unaccompanied children at three emergency shelters near the border. A 1,600-bed shelter was planned for a compound in Carrizo Springs, Texas, that once housed oil field workers.

So when Wayfair employees noticed an order from BCFS for products destined for Carrizo Springs, they determined a detention facility was the buyer and decided to act. Within hours, a group of 50 workersbegan drafting a letter to company executives, including cofounders Niraj Shah and Steve Conine and the entire board, outlining their concerns. More than 547 employees signed the letter.


The employees asked the company to cease doing business with BCFS and other contractors and requested that it establish a code of ethics for business-to-business sales that would allow “Wayfair employees to act in accordance with our values.”
“We believe that the current actions of the United States and their contractors at the Southern border do not represent an ethical business partnership Wayfair should choose to be a part of,” the letter stated.

The group sent it Friday and received a response Monday at 6 p.m. 

In that unsigned letter, company executives said they appreciated the employees’ effort to bring the issue to their attention. But as business leaders, they said, “we also believe in the importance of respecting diversity of thought within our organization and across our customer base.”

Wayfair confirmed it had responded to the employees but declined to comment further.
In a town hall meeting Tuesday afternoon, according to a recording provided to the Globe, Conine said he objected to the detention centers and noted that his cofounder, Shah, was raised in a first-generation immigrant family. But to take action as a company against a lawful customer’s purchase would be treading on a “slippery slope,” he said.

“The level of your citizenship as citizens is really the appropriate channel to try and attack an issue like this. To pull a business into it — we’re not a political entity. We’re not trying to take a political side.”

The meeting, attended by more than 500 employees, was heated at times, with staffers pressing Conine on whether he would accede to their requests or force them to walk out.

“I don’t have the answer you’re going to want to hear on that,” Conine said. “I don’t think this is the correct channel to handle this particular issue.”

He did, however, agree to consider establishing a code of ethics for corporate clients and make a donation to an appropriate charity.

Wayfair’s stock ended the day down 5.3 percent as news of the planned walkout spread.

And Highlights — yes, that magazine you read as a kid — is even weighing in: