Driving into Jacumba Hot Springs, a town eighty miles east of San Diego, California, an imposing stretch of the border wall emerges, slicing through the rugged desert terrain. Visible along the town’s main street, the thirty-foot-tall steel wall’s long shadow looms over its roughly 600 residents.

But as we approach the wall, an embodiment of U.S. immigration policy, cracks become apparent. Karen Parker, a long-time resident known affectionately as Tia or “Aunt Bunny,” points to a small gap next to a tangle of barbed wire. Tens of thousands of people from Latin America, Africa, and Asia have crossed through this gap and others like it, as families or alone, into the United States seeking to claim asylum.

Since September, San Diego Border Patrol agents have held these asylum seekers in makeshift camps in the desert, or in between two border walls, for days at a time without access to adequate food, water, shelter, sanitation facilities, or medical services.

Almost overnight, this remote pocket of the California borderlands has become a juncture in the largest global displacement of people fleeing conflict since World War II, straining local infrastructure, exacerbating tensions, and feeding sensationalist sound bites for pundits thousands of miles away.

Lacking support from local and federal officials, a network of nonprofits, mutual aid groups, and volunteers delivers critical assistance to asylum seekers at these unofficial open-air detention sites, which these groups refer to as OADS. Despite their limited resources and facing hostility from Border Patrol agents, this collective effort has sought to welcome migrants and asylum seekers to the United States with dignity.

The situation in San Diego County is part of a broken system in which border enforcement funding is prioritized above building the necessary infrastructure to humanely process a historic number of asylum seekers.

As one of the largest federal law enforcement agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), has seen its massive budget nearly triple over the past two decades. President Joe Biden’s willingness to “shut down” the border reveals how the federal government continues to pursue the same, failed strategy of criminalizing the internationally protected right to asylum while pouring billions of dollars into an increasingly militarized border.

Far-removed politicians and pundits fail to take into account the desperate circumstances in which people are willing to risk everything—from the deadly migrant route to the possibility of rejection by U.S. authorities—to seek protection at our borders.

read more: https://progressive.org/magazine/the-open-air-detention-camps-of-san-diego/