Every day over 1000 families in America are torn apart by deportation. It’s a sad fact and one that we think needs to change. But last week when we heard that an eight-year-old girl had committed suicide after being deported by Border Patrol, well, it just seemed that things had hit a new low. According to Think Progress, Mexico’s Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (National Human Rights Commission) released a press statement on Monday, saying that it would investigate her death and find her parents who live in the United States.
After her apprehension, the girl was turned over to Chihuahua state authorities who put her in a Ciudad Juarez private shelter, “instead of one run by the state’s child protective services.” State prosecutors said that the girl hanged herself inside the bathroom of the private shelter, but that “there was no foul play.”
Children under the age of 18 account for one out of every 13 people caught by US Border Patrol, according to Think Progress. Up to 120 unaccompanied children cross the border each day, and seventeen percent of them are under the age of 13. In a March 2014 report, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees found that 58 percent of children crossed the border because they faced violence by organized armed criminal actors and violence in the home. These children face death in the desert, exploitation, human smuggling rings, and more, in attempts to cross the border and reunite with their families on the other side.
Unfortunately, this story recalls another young suicide, one that happened four years ago in Ohio. Eleven-year-old “Emma” had been brought across the border with her older sister and undocumented parents when she was a toddler. One day, her father was driving home from work when police pulled him over for using high-beam headlights. He was deported a few days later. The syndicated columnist Connie Schultz wrote about what happened next:
The family struggled in Joe’s absence. Mary went on medical leave, but eventually returned to work. Emma, a stellar student and a daddy’s girl, felt her world contract. She grew increasingly morose, and combative.
In a phone call on the morning of April 17, Mary told her husband she was worried about Emma. “She needs her father,” Mary said.
“Everything will change when I get back up there,” he assured her. “Emma and I will watch baseball and soccer again, we’ll play on the computer together. She’ll be fine.”
That afternoon, Mary left Emma with her younger siblings while she and her oldest daughter ran errands. Emma protested. Mary insisted.
It was the last time Mary saw Emma alive.
The coroner ruled Emma’s death a suicide. She had wrapped a cord around her neck, tied it to a banister and slid down the stairs.
Many times in the last year and a half, Republicans have responded to pressure to pass immigration reform by asking “why now?” They ask it as a political question, meaning that immigration reform is not like the fiscal crisis or debt ceiling, issues that are under strict deadlines for action. But if that’s their attitude, then they just don’t get it. Every day they delay, the “deadline” for action passes for at least 1000 families and tragedies like these continue. It’s high past time to act.