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Kids in Indefinite Detention? Loved Ones Threatened if They Come Forward? Moved in the Dead of Night?

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“Trump’s Nativism is Strategic and Purposeful”

Over the weekend, Caitlin Dickerson of the New York Times broke the news that hundreds of children in government custody have been moved in secret and at night to a tent city in Tornillo, Texas. The story highlights that the Trump Administration now has 13,000 detained children in custody, up “fivefold” since last year, and that the average length of time detained children spend in custody has jumped from 34 days to 59 days over the past year. The main reason: the government is intimidating and arresting sponsors — many of them undocumented — who previously came forward to sponsor their loved ones.

She writes:

Until now, most undocumented children being held by federal immigration authorities had been housed in private foster homes or shelters, sleeping two or three to a room. They received formal schooling and regular visits with legal representatives assigned to their immigration cases. But in the rows of sand-colored tents in Tornillo, Tex., children in groups of 20, separated by gender, sleep lined up in bunks. There is no school: The children are given workbooks that they have no obligation to complete. Access to legal services is limited.

A blistering editorial in the New York Times, “Letting Children Rot in the Desert Is No Immigration Policy,” captures the cruelty and larger implications and outrages associated with the news of the tent city. We excerpt the editorial below:

It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand that ripping children from their beds in the middle of the night, tearing them away from anyone they’ve forged a connection with and thrusting them into more uncertainty could damage them.

Yet the crisis that has led federal immigration authorities to pull nearly 2,000 unaccompanied children (so far) out of shelters around the country in the dead of night and bus them to a “tent city” in the desert town of Tornillo, Tex., is almost entirely of the American government’s own making.

…How to best handle the cases of unaccompanied minors has perplexed immigration authorities since the Obama administration. But the current crowding is not the result of some dramatic increase in the number of children stealing across the southern border. In fact the influx is no greater now than it has been for the past two years.

Instead, the Trump administration’s own draconian policies are to blame. Around the same time that it began separating immigrant children from their parents as they crossed into the United States, the Department of Homeland Security also established strict new requirements for the relatives and friends who might care for these children while their cases are sorted out. Prospective sponsors are now required to submit fingerprints, and to share their information with federal immigration officers. Because most of them are undocumented immigrants themselves, they have been scared off by these new requirements. And with good cause: So far, dozens of applicants who took the chance of applying to be sponsors have been arrested on immigration charges.

As would-be sponsors shrink away, more of unaccompanied children are left stranded in federal custody.

Images of young children who were torn from their parents this summer triggered a massive public outcry, leading the Trump White House and immigration officials to reverse course on family separations. The long-lasting trauma of extended detention, however, is harder to capture on film, and the public has yet to voice its concern over the tighter sponsorship requirements. And yet we must.

Immigrant advocates argue that the true purpose of the new sponsor requirements is to find, arrest and deport as many undocumented immigrants as possible. Given that dozens of these immigrants have already been arrested, and given that the vast majority of them have committed no other crimes, it’s hard not to agree.

Meanwhile, thousands of children languish. If the administration ended the crackdown and worked in good faith with prospective sponsors, they’d be in the homes of friends and relatives. Of course, these arrangements can also be imperfect, but in most cases, they will be far better than an indefinite stay in desert tents at taxpayers’ expense.

Long-term solutions to America’s immigration challenges will only come with political compromise and a comprehensive reordering of official policies. But further traumatizing children whose lives have already been upended, and detaining them indefinitely, serves only to deepen the shame of this country’s treatment of vulnerable brown-skinned children, many of whom will spend a lifetime recovering from our failures.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

Let it sink in. In America, the land of the free, the home of the brave and the shining city on the hill, 13,000 kids are being held in indefinite detention by by our government. Because of this administration’s strategy of deliberate dehumanization, 2,000 languish in a tent city in rural West Texas. They were put there to deny them hope, education, and access to legal counsel. They were put there to send a message that those seeking safety will be locked up until they’re sent back.

Is this the policy that represents our foundational values and policy preferences? No. Kids should be free. Kids should live with family or foster families. Kids should be loved and protected, not isolated and traumatized.

The administration does not do this solely to pursue radical policy objectives. They do this in hopes of stoking fear of the ‘other’ to polarize the electorate, distract from their terrible record on health care, education, the environment, and retirement security, and to avoid discussion of an economic agenda that rewards the wealthy while keeping the wages of workers flat.

Trump’s nativism is strategic and purposeful. Dehumanize desperate brown people and mobilize resentful white people in order to make America white again and to hold onto power. It’s as cynical as it is cruel.