Friends, I hardly know where to start. But I knew I couldn’t write a single other thing today, until I addressed the crisis at the border and our government’s abject cruelty toward babies and children.
(Feel free to live with those words for a moment.)
While I have written about it on my own personal social feeds, it’s been so hard for me to know just how to write about this here. Again. It’s left me feeling a little paralyzed and helpless, which is a stupid way to feel.
I feel guilty for not doing more, for not using every platform at my disposal to address this.
And, if I’m honest, I feel disheartened that even when I do write about, the response can be…tepid. At best.
We are parents FFS. We have to give a shit. We have to.
So, here I am. Starting. Again.
Here’s the gist: Thousands of children are being brutalized by our own government. Brutalized.
This is not hyperbole.
Top image: From the RAICES video “The Soul of America”
This post last updated July 2
Babies, children, teens are being rounded up, separated from parents or trusted relatives, neglected and deprived of basic hygiene let alone medical care, psychologically traumatized, and stashed away in concentration camps like hardened criminals. 13,000 minors in custody. Right here in the United States. In 2019.
(And yes, concentration camp is a dictionary-approved, accurate definition of these camps that concentrate large numbers of detainees, sorrynotsorry if it makes anyone uncomfortable. Living Holocaust survivors concur. So do more than 420 Holocaust and genocide scholars, historians and other experts.)
If we don’t care, who will care? If we can’t advocate for children and families in need, then who can?
Can’t we all imagine substituting the names of these children with our own children’s names? What if there were more Aidens and Stellas and Hannahs and Coopers among them instead of Juans or Carloses or Darlyns?
What if we saw our children’s eyes in their eyes? What if we heard our children’s cries instead of their cries?
If you want to jump right to a list of ways to help, scroll to the bottom
We’ve already suggested organizations to help support the children the border. We’ve highlighted the work of RAICES. We’ve showcased snarky t-shirts that raise money. We’ve shared children’s books that humanizing immigrants. We’ve shared our own friends’ and fellow bloggers’ personal immigration and refugee stories.
What else can I write about?
I suppose I can just share the stories from the lawyers, the advocates, the witnesses, and the families themselves.
I know that every time I read these, I am filled with pain. It makes me look at my own children and tear up with gratitude that we are safe, we are healthy, we are together. We are not at risk of being forcibly separated by the government, my kids ostensibly kidnapped and sent to foster homes or adoptive homes without my knowledge — if they’re lucky enough not to have died in custody.
So I’m just going to lay it out. Here’s what’s happening. Here are the things being seen and heard and documented by reputable sources and witnesses. Here are the things we’re fighting.
The facts hurt. The stories are crushing.
Please don’t look away.
Don’t look away.
Even lawyers are shocked by the crisis.
“In my 22 years of doing visits with children in detention, I have never heard of this level of inhumanity,” said Holly Cooper, who co-directs University of California, Davis’ Immigration Law Clinic and represents detained youth.
Mukherjee was part of the team of lawyers who visited the facility last week..when they arrived Monday morning there were about 350 children there. The group spoke to more than 60.
“I have never seen conditions as appalling as what we witnessed last week,” she said. “The children are hungry, dirty and sick and being detained for very long periods of time.”
Yes, children really are being kept in cages
REP BONNIE WATSON COLEMAN: What does a chain-link fence enclosed into a chamber on a concrete floor represent to you? Is that a cage?
NIELSEN: It’s a detention space, ma’am, that you know has existed for decades.
WATSON COLEMAN: Does it differ from the cages you put your dogs in when you let them stay outside? Is it different?
WATSON COLEMAN: In what sense?
NIELSEN: It’s larger. It has facilities. It provides room to sit, to stand, to lay down.
WATSON COLEMAN: So did my dog’s cage.
Parents are not being told where their children are. Sometimes the government doesn’t even know.
For a whole month Briana’s father had no idea where she was. Border agents separated them at the border.
It was a whole month before they spoke on the phone.
Families should never be separated. https://t.co/BNt1nFQiXd
— RAICES (@RAICESTEXAS) June 22, 2019
— David Carroll 🦅 (@profcarroll) June 24, 2019
“We don’t know exactly how many children were separated and there’s no question (the government’s) complete lack of tracking makes it complicated and is outrageous, irresponsible, and frankly, criminally negligent,” said Michelle Brané, director of migrant rights at the Women’s Refugee Commission
Children are taking care of other children
A 14-year old told us she was taking care of a 4-year old who had been placed in her cell with no relatives.
“I take her to the bathroom, give her my extra food if she is hungry, and tell people to leave her alone if they are bothering her,” she said.
–First person account of Clara Long, and Nicole Austin-Hillary, Senior Researcher and Executive Director of Human Rights Watch USA
The guards are asking the younger children or the older children, “Who wants to take care of this little boy? Who wants to take of this little girl?” and they’ll bring in a two-year-old, a three-year-old, a four-year-old. And then the littlest kids are expected to be taken care of by the older kids, but then some of the oldest children lose interest in it, and little children get handed off to other children. And sometimes we hear about the littlest children being alone by themselves on the floor.
A 2-year-old [was] being cared for by “several other little girls.”
“When I asked where his diapers were and she looked down and said, ‘He doesn’t need them,’ and then he immediately peed in his pants right there on the conference chair and started crying,”
Children are being treated worse than imprisoned criminals
Children as young as 7 and 8, many of them wearing clothes caked with snot and tears, are caring for infants they’ve just met, the lawyers said. Toddlers without diapers are relieving themselves in their pants. Teenage mothers are wearing clothes stained with breast milk.
Most of the young detainees have not been able to shower or wash their clothes since they arrived at the facility, those who visited said. They have no access to toothbrushes, toothpaste or soap.
“There is a stench,” said Elora Mukherjee, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, one of the lawyers who visited the facility. “The overwhelming majority of children have not bathed since they crossed the border.
She said the conditions in Clint were the worst she had seen in any facility in her 12-year career.
Six of the children were found to have lice. And so they were given a lice shampoo, and the other children were given two combs and told to share those two combs, two lice combs, and brush their hair with the same combs, which is something you never do with a lice outbreak.
And then what happened was one of the combs was lost, and Border Patrol agents got so mad that they took away the children’s blankets and mats. They weren’t allowed to sleep on the beds, and they had to sleep on the floor on Wednesday night as punishment for losing the comb.
So you had a whole cell full of kids who had beds and mats at one point, not for everybody but for most of them, who were forced to sleep on the cement.
After assessing 39 children under the age of 18, she described conditions for unaccompanied minors at the McAllen facility as including “extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food.”
All the children who were seen showed evidence of trauma, Lucio Sevier reported, and the teens spoke of having no access to hand washing during their entire time in custody. She compared it to being “tantamount to intentionally causing the spread of disease.”
[Physician] Lucio Sevier said the facility “felt worse than jail.”
“It just felt, you know, lawless,” she said. “I mean, imagine your own children there. I can’t imagine my child being there and not being broken.”
Some of the children we spoke with were sleeping on concrete floors and eating the same unpalatable and unhealthy food for close to a month: instant oatmeal, instant soup and a previously-frozen burrito.
Descriptions [by lawyers and a board-certified physician who visited the facility] paint a bleak image of horrific conditions for children, the youngest of whom is 2 1/2 months old. “The conditions within which they are held could be compared to torture facilities,” the physician, Dolly Lucio Sevier, wrote in a medical declaration
Somali pirates gave me toothpaste & soap. https://t.co/K8zCP3IVMm
— Michael Scott Moore 🍑 (@MichaelSctMoore) June 22, 2019
Supply donations are not reaching the kids
1/ People are buying diapers, wipes, soaps and toys to donate to children in overcrowded migrant detention centers.
— Texas Tribune (@TexasTribune) June 24, 2019
Mothers of infants are desperate
The water “tastes like bleach,” according to an attorney who recently interviewed some of the migrants. “It was so bad that the mothers would save any bottled water they could get and use that to mix the baby formula.”
Unable to clean themselves, young mothers reported wiping their children’s runny noses or vomit with their own clothing, Gialluca said. There aren’t sufficient cups or baby bottles, so many are reused or shared.
Babies are the most vulnerable
Gialluca said a 16-year-old mother that she met at the McAllen facility had an 8-month-old daughter who wore only a diaper and a pastel tank top covered in “filth.” The mother told the attorney that guards took away her backpack full of baby clothes and medicine and sent them to sleep outside on the concrete.
Gialluca said the pair were both ill, congested and coughing, and described the baby as “lethargic.” All of the babies were lethargic, she said.
“Sick babies are [supposed to be] crying … and these kids were just … silent.”
‘The four children all under age 3 with teenage mothers or guardians, were feverish, coughing, vomiting and had diarrhea… One 2-year-old’s eyes were rolled back in her head.’
Immigration attorneys forced CBP to hospitalize them. https://t.co/Vm6Q0S9jsC
— RAICES (@RAICESTEXAS) June 21, 2019
Family separation is a policy, continued deliberately through a legal loophole
Since the court ordered that the government reunite parents and children…instead the government has ramped up separations by alleging the child could be at risk or the parent is a criminal.
“When it happened under prior administrations there were usually strong indicators of real and legitimate child welfare concerns,” said Lisa Koop, associate director of legal services for the National Immigrant Justice Center, which is representing several separated parents.
“What we’re seeing right now is of an entirely different character. These are gratuitous separations.”
[Elora Mukherjee, the director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School who visited the camp] said almost all the children had been separated from the adults they crossed the border with — siblings, aunts or grandparents, or even their parents.
“They don’t know where their loved ones are who they crossed the border with,” she said.
Federal law requires unaccompanied or separated migrant children be transferred to HHS custody within 72 hours, but some children at the Clint facility had been in Border Patrol custody for weeks, she said.
Children don’t need to be imprisoned. They’re being used as “bait.”
Donald Trump’s administration is using detained immigrant children as “bait” to arrest their sponsors and deliberately keeping kids in shelters for long periods, according to a class action lawsuit filed on Friday by immigration advocacy groups.
The lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of more than 10,000 children detained in Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters, is a list of horror stories compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Legal Aid Justice Center and a D.C.-based law firm.
Among the examples provided are an 11-year-old child who has languished in a shelter for more than five months and a 17-year-old whose father was deported to Guatemala after submitting his fingerprints to the ORR as part of the sponsorship process.
Many ICE and border agents are upset, too
Last Monday, when President Trump tweeted that his Administration would stage nationwide immigration raids the following week… agents at Immigration and Customs Enforcement were suddenly forced to scramble.
On Saturday, hours before the operation was supposed to start in ten major cities across the country, the President changed course, delaying it for another two weeks.
On Sunday, I spoke to an ice officer about the week’s events. “Almost nobody was looking forward to this operation,” the officer said. “It was a boondoggle, a nightmare.”
Today, we are living the consequences of our decades-long obsession with our deadly enforcement-only policies, and you, my dear former colleagues, are the tip of the spear. You are the enablers of a deportation force responsible for separating families, terrorizing communities and responsible for enforcing policies that have killed thousands of people, including six children since November who died in U.S. custody.
I mean, you didn’t really sign up to put babies in cages and babysit them…am I right? You didn’t really wake up one day and decide you thought sending people who were escaping violence and terror to concentration camps was a good thing…did you? That’s not why you went through federal law enforcement training, and not why you carry a badge and a gun. When you raised your right hand and swore to uphold the Constitution and the laws and treaties of the United States, you meant it just as I did. And I know that you know those laws and rights apply to immigrants, whether legally present or not…
As I see it, if you intend to follow your oath, you are left with two choices: either resign in protest as I did many years ago or demand changes from management and your union.
You swore to uphold the Constitution and the laws and treaties of the United States. Keep that oath.
The current administration does not seem to see children as human.
The Trump administration argued in front of a Ninth Circuit panel Tuesday that the government is not required to give soap or toothbrushes to children apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border and can have them sleep on concrete floors in frigid, overcrowded cells, despite a settlement agreement that requires detainees be kept in “safe and sanitary” facilities.
All three judges appeared incredulous during the hearing in San Francisco
Asked about the conditions facing migrant children, during an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press that was broadcast on Sunday, Trump said: “We’re doing a fantastic job.”
At least 7 children have already died in US custody since last year.
At least seven children are known to have died in immigration custody since last year, after almost a decade in which no child reportedly died while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
[This includes] 1-year-old Mariee Juarez [who] died after being released from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. Mariee died from complications of a respiratory illness her mother and lawyers say she allegedly developed while detained.
This not include the tragic June 23 death of 23-month-old Angie Valeria who died with her father, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez. The shocking photograph of them together, face down in the Rio Grande, was released a day after this post was originally published. They had crossed the river “out of desperation,” after being denied access to a legal entry point for asylum seekers, for 2 months in up to 113-degree heat.
Please know their names:
Juan de León Gutiérrez, 16
Carlos Hernandez Vásquez, 16
Darlyn Cristabel Cordova-Valle, 10
Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 8
Jakelin Caal Maquín, 7
Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vásquez, 2½
Mariee Juarez, 1
Recent photos of the camp conditions are undeniably inhumane
BREAKING: Office of the Inspector General releases new pictures of overcrowding at Border Patrol Facilities in TX. One senior manager calling this a “ticking time bomb.” #Immigration #ICE @NBCNews pic.twitter.com/bQdde1LYmB
— Gadi Schwartz (@GadiNBC) July 2, 2019
America has no idea what’s happening at its borders. These pics made me shudder in my own skin. Now I can understand why @AOC referred to them as concentration camps.
— Dr.Debbie Almontaser (@DebbiAlmontaser) July 2, 2019
You can do something. Something big or something small.
Here’s what to do (and don’t just RT, please do all of these):
📞 Congress, your mayor & local reps
Report &📄raids and arrests
Give 💵 to humanitarian efforts
📚yourself & your community
Hold political candidates accountable
— RAICES (@RAICESTEXAS) June 25, 2019
I’ve seen this community rally for kids with Autism and kids with cancer. I’ve seen us rally for families who lost their homes in floods and earthquakes. Let’s rally now for these families. There are lots of ideas above, in the tweet from RAICES. But I understand we can’t all attend rallies every weekend.
So here are some simple actions that don’t take much time at all.
–Make a donation supporting direct action. That includes RAICES, KIND, The Florence Project, and organizations supporting double-marginalized groups, like The Queer Detainee Empowerment Project or the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (h/t Sydette Clydesdale @blackamazon on Twitter).
–Make a donation supporting multiple impactful organizations. This ActBlue fundraiser supports multiple orgs working for refugees and families at the border in different ways. These include Al Otro Lado, ACLU, Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project, Dream Big Nevada, Families Belong Together, Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, Human Rights First, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), RAICES, Texas Civil Rights Project, and the Women’s Refugee Commission
–Contact your reps. Every day, if you have to. Resistbot makes it SO easy, letting you send letters or faxes via text or connecting you if you’d like to speak to an aide or leave a message.
This post tells you what to say when you call or write your representatives. There is abundant evidence that hearing from constituents is very effective. (So be sure you’re calling your own senators and members of congress above all.)
You can also text CAMPS to 668366 (MoveOn) to find out other actionable ways to close the camps.
–Use your social feeds to amplify fact-based stories. You’re already on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook? Congrats, you are an influencer! Use your platform to write about the issue you care about, or amplify the people and organizations doing important work. Popular hashtags include #ClosetheCamps #NoKidsinCages #EndFamilySeparation and #TrumpCamps.
View this post on Instagram
“Police in New York are reportedly using chainsaws to tear down a series of installations to protest the treatment of immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border—just hours after they first appeared on Wednesday morning. The installations feature real audio of children being held at the border. Article > http://bit.ly/NYArtInstallation . This is about humanity and decency and CHILDREN!!! There’s no such thing as other people’s children. . If you want to do something, here are some ACTIONS you can take (see below and at link in bio) WRITE to your member of Congress and urge them to pass H.R.541 “Keep Families Together Act” via Raices #nokidsincages Visit http://NoKidsInCages.com/act/ for everything you need to write your MOC. DONATE. To @raicestexas @together.rising @alotrolado_org @fams2gether @immfamtogether and other amazing orgs working to support families (more at link) . VOLUNTEER. Here’s a list of orgs that need help. http://bit.ly/FODSupportingFamilies . #compassion #NoKidsInCages#humanity . The Art installation is a collaboration between the brilliant minds at @badgerandwinters and @raicestexas. @nokidsincages
@FeedOurDemocracy on Instagram (above) is a favorite new feed, run by friends and fellow parents. They offer excellent facts, links to important news stories, as well as clear, simple action plans.
Join a Protest
Small towns converged in our Congressman’s town of Franklin to #CloseTheCamps . I was encouraged by the amount of passers-by honking in solidarity— people need courage to speak out if they’re not used to it, so stay loud and encourage others the urgency of doing so! pic.twitter.com/cDticzzYjf
— Nate Powell (@Nate_Powell_Art) July 2, 2019
Protests and marches are building in frequency and intensity and there will be more until this humanitarian crisis has ended. If you can’t attend a Close the Camps protest on July 2 there will be more.
There is a worldwide Lights for Liberty Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps scheduled for July 12. Key events are scheduled in El Paso, Homestead, FL, San Diego, NYC, Washington DC and more. For more info, text LIGHTS to 977-79.
-Know your rights. If you are ever threatened by ICE, or have neighbors, friends or family members who might be, it’s essential to know your rights. The Immigrant Defense Project has a fact-sheet that you can print and carry with you, or save a screenshot to your phone. Most importantly: Know that ICE agents must have a warrant signed by a judge to enter your home. If not, politely decline to let the in, and use the phrase “I don’t want to talk to you right now.”
-Push back against lies and misinformation. Some misinformation is presented in good faith, some is not. If you hear someone saying “they deserve this” or “parents should know better” you can point out that seeking asylum is legal internationally and became incorporated into U.S. immigration laws with the Refugee Act of 1980.
When you hear someone repeat a lie about the current situation, or something that sounds fishy, this is not the time to “just get along” or turn away from it. You are empowered to correct the record with facts and sources. And that is doing something.
I’ll just close with this: People in the US joke about moving to Canada all the time if “things get bad.” This happens every election season. So imagine, if your own best shot to keep your own child alive and safe from violence, starvation, war, rape or murder were to take a deadly dangerous trek on foot to another country, and to seek asylum and create a new life for them, wouldn’t you do it too?
Of course you would. So would I.
These kids deserve a chance at their own best lives too.
Man, this was long. If you’re still with me, thank you. Thank you so much. I guess I had a lot to get out.