Last night, I attended the Friday night sabbath services before my niece’s Bat Mitzvah. As the Rabbi asked us to quietly send a prayer or good wishes to anyone hurting or in pain right now, all I could think of was the incredibly difficult ACLU report about the unconscionable treatment of immigrant children entering the USA.
Biting my lip and digging my nails into my palm, I realized it was all I could do not to break down right there sobbing, in the middle of services.
It’s a very, very hard read.
[top image: Inners on MSNBC]
The report shows, “a federal immigration enforcement system marked by brutality and lawlessness,” and I can’t imagine any person with a heart reading about the treatment of these vulnerable children and not wanting to do something about it.
Details include customs and immigration officials kicking and punching children, using stun guns on children, verbally abusing children, denying children medical attention, denying children permission to stand or move freely for days, threatening children with torture or sexual abuse, and actually sexually abusing children.
For perspective, an ACLU immigration rights lawyer called it “unprecedented…the worst thing I’ve seen in 25+ years of doing this civil rights work.”
It’s not just abuse, by the way. Federal Agencies have “lost” nearly 1500 children who arrived unaccompanied at the border. While some of the children may simply be unaccounted for, there’s also evidence that some may have been turned over to traffickers. By our own government.
How does that not make you sick?
Chris Hayes kicked off the broadcast media reports about this with incredibly important segment about the agents systematically taking children away from parents at the border (screenshot from the segment at top) and it’s a quick, if difficult summation of what’s happening now, and how this is happening to children who are 4, 6, 7 — even as young as 53 weeks old.
One of his descriptions came from The Houston Chronicle’s harrowing story this week of an 18-month-old toddler was ripped from his father’s arms, the father was deported — alone — and the son was placed in a federal shelter “somewhere in Texas” until finally he was found. A full two months later.
The line that really got me (and all of it is hard to read): Advocates say few procedures are in place to ensure they reunify.
These are not anomolies. These results are in keeping with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s shoulder-shrugging explanation to NPR that children separated from their parents “will be put in foster care or whatever.”
Or whatever? Are you kidding me?
Can you imagine, as a parent, someone telling you that your child will be put “in foster care or whatever?”
It makes me physically sick to think about.
This is not about law. This is certainly not about gangs, especially if you look at the stats. This is purely about cruelty toward children, and “a kind of psychological torture that they hope will keep families away,” as Matthew Yglesias describes in the Vox article, above.
Some of these parents are entering legally, seeking asylum with their families after escaping unimaginably dangerous conditions. Some are entering illegally ( a misdemeanor offense, same as public intoxication, graffiti or profanity), like the father of the toddler who mortgaged all his land to attempt to hospitalize his son in the US for treatment of a medical condition. Then, some children are coming unaccompanied altogether.
While many reports took place before 2016 (the ACLU report is specifically about unaccompanied minors arriving in the US), the new directives to separate children from family as policy are brand new, announced May, 2018. And there is no evidence that the current administration is interested in doing anything humane or morally correct to remedy the situation.
On the contrary, there’s evidence that they’re pleased with the policy.
In 2017, the administration sought to destroy any records of ICE abuse against immigrants. Our Attorney General is currently spinning the parents accompanied by their children as parents “smuggling” children in the country. HHS is considering keeping children in internment camps on military bases — these are children taken from their parents, not unaccompanied minors who needed safe shelter, as under past administrations. And of course, the White House is branding minor children as “future criminals,” and using the situation to further promote a xenophobic agenda.
This is not a “zero-tolerance” policy about immigration. It’s a zero-conscience policy.
Need more evidence?
–More than 10,000 children are being held without their parents as reported at the end of May — a 21% surge since the previous month.
–Senator Jeff Merkley describes the conditions of a detention center for children, a converted WalMart warehouse, where children are being held in cages.
–ProPublica released haunting audio of children from inside a detention facility on June 18. (Warning: it’s very, very difficult to listen to.)
–Experts are describing the lifelong trauma of children forcibly separated from parents in a foreign country, especially at such young ages. This includes the president of the American Association of Pediatrics.
-One public defender reports that “several of her clients have told her their children were taken from them by Border Patrol agents who said they were going to give them a bath” — then were never returned to the parents. Where have we heard this before?
–Children as young as 3 have been separated from their mothers, and they could hear their own children screaming and crying form them in adjacent cells.
-1600 detainees including legal asylum-seekers are now being moved to federal prisons.
-Nicholas Kristoff, who has been critical of policies from both political parties, describes a legal asylum-seeker separated from her 4-year-old son and blind 6-year-old daughter.
-Journalist Jacob Soboroff, shares a Twitter thread with video and photos of the children’s Brownsville, Texas detention center (the coverted Wal-Mart warehouse) as one of the first journalists allowed to enter.
-One mother had her infant torn away from her in a detention center literally while she was breastfeeding, according to her attorney from the Texas Civil Rights Project.
-A 39-year-old father seeking asylum from Honduras committed suicide after being separated from his wife and child.
-In an unusual move, all five living First Ladies have spoken out against forced family separation, most notably Laura Bush in a compelling op-ed that asks for “a kinder, more compassionate and more moral” solution.
This is not okay. Not in America. Not anywhere.
WHAT CAN YOU DO
1. Call your elected representatives. As Congressman Ted Lieu of California wrote on Twitter, how we treat children is not a partisan isssue. You can reach out to your elected representatives and let them know how important this issue is to you. The congressional switchboard is (202) 224-3121, or check out these 3 political apps that make it easy to contact your reps.
-When you call, you can also use this helpful ACLU script to ask congress to put an end to the administration’s family separation policy. Also find a simple script for calling Congress from our friends at Feed Our Democracy on their action plan Gogle doc.
-You can ask them to support S.3036,Senator Diane Feinstein’s Keep Families Together Act, cosponsored by 31 senators. (UPDATE: As of 6/18, all 49 Democratic senators have now signed on.) It was created in consultation with child welfare experts to ensure the US government is acting in the best interest of children, and is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with many of the orgs listed below.
If you have a Republican senator, please ask them to sign on.
-You can thank the Members of Congress who actually are speaking out on this issue and standing with women and children. (Tweet via @MomsRising).
See more Members of Congress who marched in protest from Customs and Border Patrol to the White House on June 13. (Tweet via @juddzeez) They include Reps Luis Guttierez (IL), Joseph Crowley (NY), Jon Lewis (GA), Pramila Jayapal (WA), and Al Green (TX) among others.
-Further, you can ask them to demand transparency from ICE. and further, ask them to abolish ICE, an extrajudicial and unaccountable organization which is aptly described by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as “a weapon waiting for a tyrant.”
The ACLU also has a convenient tip sheet about your rights in the border zone. It’s essential information, should you ever need to step in and stand up for someone who’s being illegally detained or having their 4th amendment rights regarding search and seizure violated.
3. Support charities and organizations dedicated to helping children, including the following:
(Note, I’ll continue to update this with excellent orgs vetted by people I trust as I come across them)
– The Young Center for Immigrant and Children’s Rights focuses on the rights, safety, and best interests of unaccompanied immigrant children.
–United We Dream is the first and largest immigrant youth-led organization in the country.
–KIND: Kids in Need of Defense is effective in supporting children’s protection and upholding their right to due process and fundamental fairness.
4 Donate to the ACLU which is actively fighting these injustices in court. You can also sign their petition to Kevin McAleenan, Commissioner of Customs and US Border Protection to demand a stop to the physical, sexual, and verbal abuse of immigrant children.
(Just note I personally am not a big fan of petitions as I question their effectiveness, but I am a fan of supporting the ACLU in any way they need.)
I know this is a tough, complex issue in a lot of ways. But the inhumane treatment of children is not complicated in the least. Children are not “animals,” they are not “future criminals,” and they are certainly not deserving of abuse by anyone, let alone US government officials. And that abuse includes the forced separation from their parents and families.
I hope you’ll at least read up on some of the issues, and think about what you can do. There’s always something you can do.
Last updated June 19 including minor factual corrections, more organizations, and additional reporting about the state of immigrant children and families right now.