Recent reports highlight the abject cruelty and widespread consequences of the Trump administration’s policy of separating parents and children at the border.
In a Boston Globe story titled, “Down on the Border, There’s a New Trail of Tears,” Liz Goodwin writes:
US Border Patrol agents separated Wil from his father six months ago, after the pair made the long journey from violence-torn Honduras to the US border in Arizona, attempting to claim asylum there. Within days of arriving in the United States, Wil watched as his father was taken away in handcuffs, joining a long line of other chained men. That, according to his foster parents, was the last time he saw his dad.
In the intentionally brutal logic of President Trump’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the US border, Wil is actually among the lucky kids. At least his foster parents know where his father is being held, though not when father and son might be reunited. Three other young children in the care of Coryn and Silas don’t know the location of their parents and have had no contact with them for weeks.
The Trump administration’s policy of splitting up families is creating a burgeoning population of dislocated and frightened children, held in makeshift detention centers near the border, including one in a former Walmart, or scattered in shelters and foster homes across the country. As the children and parents experience the fallout of forced separation by US authorities, advocates are struggling to get even basic information about the location and status of these detainees.
The Trump administration says the goal is simple: to punish people trying to enter the country illegally, and that means immediately arresting adults and placing them in detention without their children.
But the result is a brand of justice that seems un-American to many, unrecognizable in its deliberate cruelty…
“Can you tell us any other time when someone goes to jail for a misdemeanor, gets out, and still doesn’t get their child back?” said Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the ACLU who is suing the government on behalf of separated parents. “They’re keeping the child for months and months and months.”
Aleman-Bendiks, the public defender, said 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. As the hours passed, it dawned on the mothers the kids were not coming back.
“It’s incredible,” she said. “I just can’t believe what’s happening here.”
In late May, separated parents in McAllen were given a number to call HHS and try to locate their children. It was the wrong number. Last week, parents were given a handwritten note telling them to call ICE — not HHS — if they wanted information about how to reunite with their children. But parents did not have access to phones at the time, rendering the number useless.
Children face even more challenges in finding their parents. Many of the youngest ones aren’t even verbal, leaving case managers to try to put together the pieces.”
Washington Post’s Amy Wang, in a piece titled “‘Mothers could not stop crying’: Lawmaker blasts Trump policy after visiting detained immigrants,” details the recent visit by Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) to a federal detention center in SeaTac and her conversations with detained parents:
The women were in three separate concrete pods when she visited, and Jayapal said she and an interpreter first asked them to respond to questions by raising their hands. She asked how many were mothers who had been forcibly separated from their children: More than half of the women raised their hands. Some said that their children had been as young as 12 months — and many no longer knew where their children were being held.
“It was absolutely heartbreaking. And I’ve been doing immigration-rights work for almost two decades. I am not new to these stories,” Jayapal told The Washington Post on Sunday. “I will tell you there was not a dry eye in the house. … Some of them heard their children screaming for them in the next room. Not a single one of them had been allowed to say goodbye or explain to them what was happening.”
“Just the abuse that they endured, being called filthy and stinky and being mocked for crying,” Jayapal told The Post. “One woman said ‘I want to be with my children’ and the Border Patrol agent said: ‘You will never see your children again. Families don’t exist here. You won’t have a family anymore.’ ”
And in a USA Today story, Rick Jervis reports from on-the-ground in McAllen, TX about the human toll and sense of outrage from local advocates and community leaders:
Immigrant families picked up crossing into Texas around the McAllen area are often taken to the Border Patrol’s Ursula Processing Center, a former warehouse in South McAllen refitted to hold recent arrivals, said Elissa Steglich, a professor at the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, who visited the border recently on a fact-finding mission.
At the center, agents separate parents from their children while the adults’ criminal cases are pursued, she said. In one case, federal agents told two female immigrants they were taking their daughters away for a bath, then never returned with them, Steglich said.
The policy tramples the rights of immigrants who may have a legitimate claim for asylum in the USA, many of whom have no criminal record, she said.
Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and director of the Respite Center, said immigrants coming to the center are exhausted and traumatized by the experience. Her biggest concern is parents being deported to their home countries without their children, which she said she heard is happening in some cases. “It’s inhumane. It’s cruel,” Pimentel said. “I don’t see how we as U.S. citizens can be OK with that.”