Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Like any good history nerd, I have a few holiday traditions: I read Letter From a Birmingham Jail every MLK Day, and a different presidential inaugural address every Presidents’ Day. But I’ve never developed a Fourth of July reading habit, though I guess the correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson would be appropriate. Maybe next year.

By chance, though, I did find myself reading this July 4 something sadly and strangely appropriate.

I’d been rushing to finish up work on Tuesday when this — exhibits submitted by the state of California in its case challenging family separations at the border — dropped.

And that’s how I found myself, on a holiday in which folks grill up hot dogs, wear absurd and adorable starred and striped hats and leggings, and gaze up at the night sky together all at once, poring over a horrifying accounting of systemic cruelty being sanctioned by the United States government.

It is not a read for the faint of heart.

A mother from El Salvador details her desperate, frantic search for the 14-month-old son from whom she was separated. This, despite seeking asylum at a legal port of entry and despite carefully guarding and presenting the boy’s documentation to U.S. officials. This, despite the Department of Homeland Security insisting it only separates parents from children in situations in which documentation doesn’t exist.

“We were held in iceboxes,” she says simply, referring to her detention with her other young son. When she was finally reunited with her 14-month-old, “he was full of dirt and lice. It seemed like they had not bathed him in the 85 days he was away from us.” In the time since her family has been reunited, the mother says her children show signs of deep emotional trauma.

A volunteer who works with migrants describes watching a Honduran father being handcuffed and fingerprinted as both he and his young son, sobbing, are taken away from each other. His clients call him crying from detention, frantic for updates on whether he’s been able to locate their children.

Another mother from El Salvador describes watching an officer take her children away, and the final teary glimpse she got of them being led away, before “they took me back to the icebox.”

The icebox, as you might have inferred, is a common description of an area where migrants are held at Otay Mesa.

These go on and on, remarkably uniform in their descriptions of what is certainly one of the single worst moments of each of these parents’ lives.

Iceboxes and tears. Panic and uncertainty. This is these migrants’ introduction to America.

A common cliche I see pop up on Twitter and Facebook is Benjamin Franklin’s refrain, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

We’ve got some work to do if we want to hold onto ours.

What VOSD Learned This Week

The program that fast-tracks prosecutions for those caught crossing the border illegally, called Operation Streamline, is coming to San Diego this week. Maya Srikrishnan broke down what to expect and how it’s worked in other states.


The fight to change the way countywide elections are held took an interesting turn this week.

Over on the podcast, Andy Keatts and I ran down all the upcoming bills, races and City Council decisions we’re keeping a close eye on.


San Diego Unified expects to be staring down $41 million in budget cuts next year, but it can’t yet say where the cuts will come from. The district was warned that doling out more raises could cause it to run out of money, but it forged ahead anyway.


A major piece of Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s plan to address the housing crisis is on pause and is set to be reworked.

Meanwhile, in National City, officials tried to create a system that would kick polluting businesses out of residential areas, but it hasn’t worked so far and is now on hold.


Folks who want to bypass the state’s gnarly system for reserving camping spots can rent out space directly from private land owners – think Airbnb but for campsites. Like Airbnb, though, it’s fraught with issues for government regulators.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“Would you rather shoot literal botulism into your face or look your real age, you hag?” — This list of 17 Would You Rather? questions for women will make you laugh because it’s funny, and also to keep from crying because it’s horrifyingly realistic.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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