The heartless and immigrants: Blindness about the reality of healthcare in the United States

Let’s examine what the heartless are doing. From his position of power, Trump made a de facto decision, issuing a proclamation, on October 4, 2019, that immigrants coming to the United States will have to purchase private health insurance or prove that they have enough funds to pay for their healthcare cost. Taking effect on November 3, this will concern visa applications.

Trump’s position about making immigrants and asylum seekers pay for their health insurance is based on the Republicans’ view of discriminating between who lives and who dies, which life is valued and which life is not. He tweeted, “Let’s take care of our own instead of paying for the undocumented.” But that’s wrong. Let’s look at the numbers of Americans who have been neglected by the health care system: the poor, African Americans, youth, the aged, people who work multiple jobs without benefits, the homeless, the unemployed and precaritized women. Since the health care system in the US is based on private policies that are profit driven, health itself is the casualty. What’s more, there is a false notion harbored by many Republicans that the United States would receive an influx of medical tourists if we offered healthcare to all immigrants entering the country. The reality is that the outrageous health costs force many American citizens to seek care as medical tourists in countries like Mexico, Thailand, India and many others.

So why pit immigrants against citizens and residents? 

Trump’s decision fuels the anti-immigrant sentiment and rhetoric that have permitted the most cruel actions against people looking for safer ground. Between 2016 and 2019 under the Trump administration the number of immigrant deaths detention centers has increased due to ICE’s poor medical standards. As Human Rights Watch has described:  “ICE has proven unable or unwilling to provide adequately for the health and safety of the people it detains.”   These detention centers are expanding across the country. This part of the business of controlling bodies at the border is based on violence, humiliation and redefinition of bodies, as children are put in cages and babies are snatched from their mothers’ arms. Achille Mbembé has developed the concept of borderization to address the treatment that has been randomly applied to undesirables, to immigrants’ bodies, in our world of quantification and digitalization, leading to division between immigrants and citizens who are as a result oblivious to their own deprivation of rights and health care. 

It is crucial to note the heartlessness of the Trump administration’s treatments of immigrants at the border. Although ICE declares that its medical care in detention centers has in fact improved under the Trump administration and provide statistics to support their claim, many organizations including Human Rights Watch provide different detailed accounts that show the rise of immigrant deaths, children and adults, as the result of untimely and poor medical care. Meanwhile, the Trump administration seeks to expand immigration detention centers, which will put more people at risk.  

This dehumanization of the undesirable migrants is occurring around the world. While in France, under the “Fight against Exclusion” program the state provides free health care, Aide Medical d’Etat (AME), to undocumented immigrants with immediate coverage for minors, the conservatives have been calling this program into question. The Health Minister immediately declared that this program is “an absolute necessity”; nonetheless, the President agreed on an audit of the program that can open it to lowering the level of coverage. France is one of the rare if not the last country to provide health care to undocumented immigrants. 

(Image Credit 1: Immigration Impact) (Image Credit 2: Mitch Blunt / Human Rights Watch)

The United Nations refusal to address women’s safety is another casualty of war

The heartless who initiated the heartbeat bills being passed across the United State have also worked hard to dehumanize women victims of sexual crimes in wars.  UN Resolution 2467 introduced in the Security Council on ending sexual violence in war has been passed, stripped of its most important parts. The original rationale was to protect victims of sexual war crimes, but, thanks to a threatened US veto, the final passed resolution is a shadow if its original intent. The entire health section, which included reproductive and sexual services, was stripped out because it implied right to abortion.  Language, such as “the establishment of a formal mechanism to monitor and report atrocities…”, was also removed. These disastrous changes of language occurred after afew days of stalemate between the US, China and Russia. 

The most effective opponent of a resolution that would have added useful tools to protect women in war came from Trump’s ambassador, Jonathan Cohen. The Trump administration is attempting to wrest control from vulnerable women’s bodies in war and is instead waging war against women in the United Nations. The feeling of impunity of the most powerful state-members in the United Nations is notorious, and the United States is no exception. Although the United States has been involved in the building of international treaties against torture, violence, or discrimination, it has failed to fully ratify them. For instance, The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR, which asserts fundamental political and civil rights, was never fully ratified. The ICCPR treaty comprises the formation of a group of experts for monitoring governments’ implementation of the treaty. Under a treaty entitled The Optional Protocol of the ICCPR, the Human Rights Committee may receive complaints from individuals. Individuals from the United States cannot have access to this body. Similarly, the United States is not fully bound to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment. Furthermore, the United States never ratified the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW. 

The debates concerning Resolution 2467 involved about 90 delegates, numerous dignitaries, two 2018 recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Iraqi Yazidi Nadia Murad with her legal councilor, Amal Clooney, and the Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege. They were outraged and decried the international community’s failure to act. The Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres emphasized that despite two precedent resolutions and work on the ground, the situation has not improved: “Advocacy groups have demonstrated beyond a doubt that sexual violence is deliberately used as a tactic of war, to terrorize people, dehumanize communities and destabilize societies, so that they struggle to recover for years or even decades.” Pramila Patten, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict had these strong words: “Wars are still being fought on and over the bodies of women and girls.” Everyone hoped that the resolution would bring some momentum to actions to stop this cycle of violence and give victims a way to become again full human beings. 

Although the international community seemed to have realized the gravity of the situation, the lack of protection and help for the victims and the lack of implementation of accountability mechanisms have remained the main issue. It seemed that the issue was doomed from the get-go. This resolution will become yet another political tool in words and not deeds, and yet another frustratingly futile attempt at rectifying a clear injustice.

At this time of mounting far right intolerance, there is a discrepancy between the political reality of the lives of these women and the level of actions by the leaders of the most economically powerful and largest countries.

That the heartless were at war with justice was anticipated by many in the field. Celine Bardet, founder of “We are weapons of war”, didn’t make the trip to New York. She declared that what happened to the resolution reflects the overall US policy. Since assuming office, Trump has imposed the strongest version ever implemented of the Global Gag Rule, with its dreadful consequences for the most precarious women of the global South. Meanwhile, the ongoing battle against women’s health, reproductive and sexual health in the United States has reached new levels of cruelty. 

Some expressed outrage, for example the UN French Ambassador: “It is intolerable and incomprehensible that the Security Council is incapable of acknowledging that women and girls who suffered from sexual violence in conflict — and who obviously didn’t choose to become pregnant — should have the right to terminate their pregnancy.”

Noting that today victims have no access to medical services, Celine Bardet argued that nobody should have voted for this resolution since it was stripped of its most important content. Bardet believes money should be directed to victims on the ground; helping victims to reclaim their dignity is the only way to make a difference, as survivors, unlike the international political community, will not give up. 

The lack of will to protect women victims of sexual war crimes is a political issue ingrained in the heart of the patriarchal capitalist/neoliberal system.  Wars open up a cornucopia of markets, such as the security market, the rebuilding market, “the global smart weapons” market; the list goes on. Control over women’s reproductive bodies must be understood as the elimination of women’s political bodies. When the global gag rule makes women’s lives precarious, so does a UN resolution that has no ability to protect women from sexual war crimes. These political instruments render women’s racialized and gendered bodies invisible, and this is what mainstream feminism sometimes has difficulty understanding. 

While these heartless policies are currently being enacted against women, on the ground other voices are surfacing to uphold women’s rights and the right to live on a planet without fear of climate catastrophes and war. These voices are rising up in the younger generation in the U.S. Congress, in the current run up to the European Commission election, in the fringe parties in India, in the counter protests in Venezuela, and so on. As, worldwide, far right voices are trending, this is the time to keep our ears to the ground. 

(Image Credit: CICC Global Justice)