Set them free!

Migrant children jailed at border

In response to the groundswell of news of thousands of migrant children ensnared by Homeland Security, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stated on June 6, “How we treat those in need, particularly young people who must appear in immigration proceedings — many of whom are fleeing violence, persecution, abuse or trafficking — goes to the core of who we are as a nation.” (New York Times)

The Obama administration may be trying to paint a caring face about this recent crisis. However, U.S. policy tells a completely different story.

One need only ask Trayvon Martin’s parents — who daily must endure the knowledge that George Zimmerman was allowed to walk the streets freely after killing their son — to know that working-class children, especially children of color, are not priorities under the capitalist system, no matter where they are born.

Regarding immigrant workers, an entirely new and chilling development is unfolding right before our eyes. Children as young as three or four years old and as old as 17 are arriving at the U.S. border in unprecedented numbers. They are mainly coming alone, unaccompanied by a family member; many come with a “coyote” (paid smuggler).

The minors are primarily from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The children have been caught by immigration agents as they attempted to make their way into the U.S. Most of them are looking for family members already in this country.

Pictures of children packed tightly into detention centers in Texas and Arizona were leaked to Breitbart, a right-wing website; they have been widely distributed. The pictures portray a gloomy situation. One could only wonder about the desperate conditions back home that forced this mass exodus.

Shouldn’t the mainstream media and Holder be asking questions about why Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents leaked the pictures to a conservative source and who exactly did it? Surely, it was not done to evoke empathy for the children.

The photographs were leaked to a right-wing source to whip up the racist anti-immigrant forces in this country, especially the Tea Party Republicans in Washington.

Almost immediately, reactionary statements were issued about the “hordes” of migrant children coming into the U.S., and that they must be stopped. Some Congress members — all Republicans — used the crisis to attack President Barack Obama. They accused his administration of encouraging this exodus.

The new face of migration

California and Arizona used to be the busiest corridors for migrant crossings. But with the increased militarization of those areas, more people have been coming into Texas than ever before.

The Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector reports that 148,017 arrests were made from October 1, 2013, to May 17 of this year. Central Americans make up 75 percent of those captured in South Texas, which is the traditional entry point to this region. (Associated Press, June 8)

During the same period, border agents publicized that they arrested more than 47,000 unaccompanied minors, a 92 percent increase from the same period the year before. Some reports said the ages ranged from six months old to 16 years old. That number could reach 90,000, reported a Border Patrol memorandum. (AP, June 11)

CNN quoted the Border Patrol union, the National Border Patrol Council, in South Texas. Chris Cabrera, the Council’s vice president, said on June 9: “We are seeing numbers that we’ve never seen before in this part of the country. You’re talking kids from 17 years old on down to some that are 5 or 6 years old, traveling by themselves.”

An uneducated or conservative person in the U.S. may ask, “How can a parent allow that”? The reality is that extreme U.S. economic and political policies are driving this crisis.

William Marsden best described the situation in the June 11 issue of the Star Phoenix: “They are mere children yet they travel almost 3,000 kilometers [2,000 miles], seeking sanctuary. They cling to the roofs of trains and buses. They walk across deserts in blazing heat, often lacking food or water. They fall prey to thieves and other criminals.

“Those who survive this gauntlet are more often than not rounded up by U.S. border guards and imprisoned in crowded detention centers. In the vocabulary of immigration, they are ‘undocumented aliens.’ In reality, however, they are North America’s war refugees.”

Luis Rolando Acosta, one of the youth, was interviewed in Mexico by Dianne Solid and Alfredo Corchado. They wrote in a Dallas News article dated June 7: “There are deaths every day. … Gangsters placed a pistol in the mouth of some travelers to extort money. Teenage girls and women were raped, sometimes while husbands watched helplessly.”

The trip is a nightmare in hell. But when the youth arrive in the U.S. and are held in detention, the nightmare is far from over.

Because of the overwhelming numbers of youth caught by ICE, thousands are currently being held in detention centers in Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma and other states.

On June 11, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint on behalf of five immigrant rights groups with the Department of Homeland Security. It dealt with 113 cases of minors who have come into the U.S. in the last year, and described the horrors in the detention centers. (

The brief stated that children are forced to stand in stress positions as punishments, and there is physical, mental and sexual abuse. Medical care is lacking. Of the 113 cases, more than 80 percent reported the denial of food or water. One child stated that the only water that was available to her was from the toilet tank in her cell. Children told of being fed frozen or spoiled food.

Like the prisoners incarcerated in U.S. prisons, the children are held in cells where the lights are always on, and they are subjected to extreme heat or cold.

A 16-year-old reported that Border agents “violently spread her legs and touched her genital areas,” says the complaint. A 15-year-old said that a border agent took her into a cave and raped her. ICE agents told a young girl, “You’re the garbage that contaminates this country.”

Border Patrol spokesperson Jackie Wasi­luk wrote, “Mistreatment or misconduct is not tolerated.” However, the reality is as James Lyall, ACLU staff attorney, stated, “There’s a culture of abuse and impunity in the agency.” (

Who will fight for these children?

What will happen to these tortured youth in crisis? Where will they go if they cannot hook up with their families? Who will hold them in the night as they recall their hellish trip? Who will wait for them back home when the U.S. deports them to Central America? Who will provide the desperately needed education, counseling and jobs they deserve?

A social worker told this writer about the horror of seeing the children in shackles and chains departing in ICE planes. She described her own pain as she saw a five-year-old girl in handcuffs and anklets.

The root cause of the desperate acts that force the young to leave, that compel parents to bring or send their children alone is U.S. imperialist policy — U.S. imperialism alone.

Neither Honduran children nor their parents would be driven to these desperate acts if the U.S. government had not ousted President Mel Zelaya in 2009. He had attempted to deal with the economic crisis that forces migration.

But U.S. imperialists did not allow it. Instead, Honduras is now experiencing a wave of repression, drugs and other ills. These conditions are what force the hands of the parents and the children of Central America.

This is indeed a humanitarian crisis, as President Obama put it. But it is a crisis that only the workers can resolve. Immigrant rights activists, labor unions, the anti-war movement and all the progressive sectors must step up and not only condemn this crisis but stop the imperialist crisis at the root of the problem.

Who will fight for the children? Only the working class itself.