The effort to reunite all separated im/migrant families continues despite the Trump administration’s obstructionism, leaving many children in federal custody, instead of being rejoined with their parents. The government’s racist “zero tolerance policy” denies entry to im/migrants from Central America at the Texas/Mexico border; it has resulted in confinement of 2,551 separated children.
A global outcry forced the president to publicly withdraw the policy on June 20, as photographs of crying children, some in cages, circulated. Lacking any compassion, Trump gave his reason: the “optics” didn’t look good politically.
Despite Federal Judge Dana Sabraw’s June 26 order that all separated migrant children must be reunited with their parents by July 26, this did not happen. Addressing this crisis, the furious judge emphasized that “for every parent who is not located, there will be a permanently orphaned child, and that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration.” (CNN, Aug. 3)
Government lawyers admitted that 559 children, aged 5 to 17, were still in U.S. custody on Aug. 9. Some 386 of their parents were already deported to their home countries; the rest are separated for other reasons. Finding the parents has been a herculean task because government officials and immigration agencies have been no help in reuniting families — and they had no plan to do so.
Trump administration attorneys deliberately put the burden on the American Civil Liberties Union — which brought the legal challenge to family separation — to locate the deported parents, but would not turn over their contact information or the children’s files. The ACLU told HuffPost on Aug. 9 that Immigration and Customs Enforcement deliberately withheld 400 deported parents’ phone numbers and only handed over this information on Aug. 7 after much pressure was exerted.
The U.S. government is not searching for deportees. But volunteers and contacts for the ACLU and other legal, immigrant and humanitarian organizations are working with allies in Central America to do the arduous, but crucial work, to find the parents.
‘Turn the plane around’
Defying established laws and policies, the U.S. government is callously rushing to deport immigrants at the southern border, no matter their desperate circumstances. Xenophobe Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued new rules in June denying asylum to individuals fleeing domestic and/or gang violence. This flouts U.S. and international law, which recognizes gender-based persecution as grounds for granting asylum. Federal courts have also permitted asylum for people fleeing gang violence.
Sessions’ edict was codified in July in a memo to officials who interview asylum seekers at the southern border. These policies are having an impact; thousands of potential asylum seekers have been denied entry there, said CNN on Aug. 9.
The Center for Gender and Refugee Studies and the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging this policy on Aug. 7 on behalf of several immigrant plaintiffs, with the aim of ending the policy altogether. Two days later, while the case was in court, two plaintiffs, a woman who had fled horrific spousal abuse, and her daughter, a target of gang threats, were secretly put on a plane to El Salvador. Although U.S. border interviewers found their stories believable, they still denied these two refugees asylum.
Outraged, District of Columbia District Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered the government to “turn the plane around.” If this was not done, the judge threatened “contempt proceedings” against Sessions and the heads of federal agencies in charge of immigration. The plane returned the two to the U.S. that night. The judge then blocked the deportation of all plaintiffs while the lawsuit is underway. (aclu.org, Aug 9)
Jennifer Chang Newell, ACLU attorney in the case, said, “In its rush to deport as many immigrants as possible, this administration is putting these women and children in grave danger of being raped, beaten or killed.” (NBC News, Aug. 10)
Profits trump children’s well-being
In its drive to deter immigration, the Trump administration cruelly separated children from their parents. The conditions of many youngsters’ detention have been deliberately cruel, sadistic and, seemingly, racist. Children separated from their parents under these circumstances for even a short time not only suffer while they’re apart, but when reunited are often depressed, anxious, distant, fearful and angry. Many will suffer long-term psychological damage.
Journalists, photographers, lawyers and others have not been allowed into facilities to see the conditions of children’s confinement. Reports have circulated of children kept in cages, forced to work, neglected and physically and sexually abused. At Southwest Key facilities, three minors have been sexually abused by an older detainee or employee. The Trump administration is paying the company $458 million this year to house child migrants in its 26 U.S. facilities. The Nation reported on July 27 that Southwest Key Program Inc. has been charged with hundreds of health and safety violations in its Texas facilities over the last three years.
Federal Judge Dolly Gee ordered government officials on July 30 to stop giving psychotropic medications at the Shiloh Residential Treatment Center in Manvel, Texas, to migrant children without their parents’ permission. (Washington Post, July 31.) She ordered all children removed from the locked, super-secure facility unless they would harm themselves or others.
Children testified about being daily dosed at Shiloh with drugs and witnessing other children being forcibly medicated, rendering them unable to walk, and being denied phone calls and drinking water — and then brutalized if they tried to access water. Yet the government still contracts with this notorious facility to house migrant children, despite its history of child mistreatment. In December 2014, Texas Rep. Shirley Jackson Lee tried to get Shiloh closed due to forcible drugging, physical abuse and deaths of minor children, based on Houston Chronicle reports. As of Aug. 8, 28 migrant children remain there.
Shiloh is among 71 companies allocated federal funds to house immigrant children, including the 2,551 youngsters detained under the zero tolerance policy. Shiloh has received $26 million since 2013 to house “unaccompanied minors.” The Center for Investigative Reporting says that “nearly half of the $3.4 billion paid to those  companies in the last four years went to homes with serious allegations of mistreating children.” After these allegations were publicized, the government continued contracting with many of the facilities. Reveal News, a CIR blog, reports that some of the companies hire employees with histories of sexual abuse.
Abuse of migrant children not new
The Trump administration’s separation of children and confinement of youngsters, even toddlers and babies alone and in cages, are horrific — the creation of reactionary xenophobes in the White House, Border Patrol and ICE.
But cruel treatment of immigrant children is not new. Detention and abuse of tens of thousands of “unaccompanied minors” have occurred during past administrations.
The ACLU published a report on May 22 about the government’s abuse of migrant children from 2009 to 2014 — during Obama’s terms — based on data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. (See “Neglect and Abuse of Unaccompanied Immigrant Children by U.S. Customs and Border Protection” at tinyurl.com/yd2dkhwa)
Private prison and border security industries poured millions of dollars into getting Trump elected. In turn, they are getting big government contracts to detain immigrants in this billion-dollar industry. Two of the largest for-profit prison companies., GEO Group and CoreCivic, Trump donors, each built huge immigrant detention facilities in southern Texas in 2014.
Defense contractors benefit as well. MVM has received $248 million since 2014 to transport migrant youngsters for ICE. Arms maker General Dynamics processes migrant children’s cases. Having private companies run these facilities provides a layer of protection for the government; they can be blamed for abuse, leaving the administration off the hook, while the profiteers rake in the revenue.
Protests continue to demand reunification of families and to abolish ICE. It is crucial to call for an end to all immigrant detentions and deportations and to allow all asylum seekers and refugees to enter the country — and, ultimately, to open all the borders.
As the Trump administration intensifies its racist war on immigrants, now attacking documented workers, this call to action is essential: “Stop the war on all im/migrants!”