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The Trump Administration’s cruel and incompetent family separation policy and related crackdown continues to exact a toll on children and families, as a series of first-person accounts and assessments highlight. Meanwhile, several medical experts are speaking out against the administration’s proposed “alternative,” stressing the long-term trauma that would result from the indefinite incarceration of children alongside their caregivers.
According to Pili Tobar, Managing Director of America’s Voice, “Whether it’s the disturbing details of the conditions and treatment of separated children in government facilities, the fact that babies are being pulled into immigration court, or the disgusting notion that indefinite incarceration would somehow be an okay way to treat kids, the Trump Administration’s immigration and asylum policies remain a moral catastrophe.”
Below are a series of accounts and excerpts highlighting the mix of incompetence and cruelty that defines the administration’s ongoing policy vision:
A woman named Mayra said her 9-year-old son became fearful after their detention in Nogales, Arizona, where he saw children separated from their parents. “He saw someone bound with chains and asked me whether I would be chained in the same way,” she said. “He wonders when we will get to the United States. I do not tell him that we are already here. He wouldn’t believe that the United States would treat us this way.”
…A woman named Leydi, held in Chula Vista, California, described watching young children trying to touch their parents through metal fences. “The mothers tried to reach their children, and I saw children pressing up against the fence of the cage to try to reach out,” she said. “But officials pulled the children away and yelled at their mothers.”
…In addition to the horrible conditions within stations and shelters, children complained about the staff. The case filing contains multiple accounts of kids who say they were kicked by guards while sleeping, as well as instances of verbal abuse. Sixteen-year-old Erick says the guards in a California Border Patrol station call him and the other Guatemalan boys “burros,” the Spanish word for “donkey” or “stupid.” Another youth, whose name was completely blacked out in the court filing, said to a lawyer: “When I told the CPB officer that my mother was killed they made fun of me and said that I was ‘weak.’ I did not feel comfortable after that sharing my fear.”
While pediatricians and counselors have spoken about the long-term trauma that will result from family separation, children say in the court filing that their guards are less sympathetic. Since Sergio was separated from his father and taken to Casa Padre in early June, he’s become so consumed with worry he can’t sleep. The 16-year-old has only been able to speak with his dad for 20 minutes in the last 45 days, and he told a lawyer that his father is getting deported. When a guard found him crying in the bathroom one night, Sergio said the man accused him of being a “crybaby,” an insult he followed with an English phrase that another boy translated as “swear words.” “The way I have been treated makes me feel like I don’t matter,” he said, “like I am trash.”
[Peter Schey, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law] who conducted interviews with children in Casa Padre last week, said the separated kids he spoke with are “traumatized.” “They are not getting mental health services. They are experiencing depression and anxiety… and nightmares and sleeplessness.”
Excerpt from Noticiero Univision (translated by America’s Voice):
Alexander Asig, an 11 year old Guatemalan, was separated from his mother on May 24 after both crossed the border. Mother and son were separated for 45 days. The Asig family is suing the organization Heartland Human Care Services for negligence in a Miami court.
The boy told Noticiero Univision about the dreadful experience he and other children faced. He felt like a prisioner, he said. “As if I had committed a crime, as if I killed someone.”
“The president does not know what we have suffered. I feel that we are all the same… because we are all born of a father. No one was born of an animal or a tree.”
Excerpt from Univision.com coverage of first hand accounts of horrors faced by children in detention (translated by America’s Voice):
“I was afraid of the guards and afraid of being deported without my mother,” said Keylin, a 16-year-old Honduran who fled her country with her mother after receiving death threats. When they reached the border they were detained and separated … the guards of that facility forced her and other girls to undress in front of them before bathing, according to the teenager’s testimony, which is mentioned in a lawsuit against the Trump government.
Blanca, a Guatemalan who entered the US with her 4-year-old daughter on May 24th, said that she could not bathe for several days. “The only bathrooms were small plastic toilets,” she said of portable toilets. “The officers told us there were too many people and that we could only shower after having been there for five days. “The worst was the water,” said Delmis, a Honduran woman who crossed the border with her 2-year-old son. “I had to cover my nose to drink it,” she said.
Mayra, the mother of two children aged 2 and 9, said that she once asked for water for her daughter, but they denied it. “My daughter started crying, the officers told me to shut up.”
While Iris claimed that she was given “frozen food that smelled bad and was not suitable for consumption”. Someone else said that on one occasion he received “black” lettuce, that is, rotten.
Miriam Jordan in the New York Times, “Government Medical Experts Say Detaining Migrant Families ‘Poses High Risk of Harm’”:
The Trump administration, faced with a public outcry over the separation of migrant families at the Southwest border, has said it is exploring a major expansion of family detention centers. But two of the government’s own medical consultants said this week that they had identified a “high risk of harm” to migrant children housed at such facilities.
A series of 10 investigations over the past four years, conducted during both the Obama and Trump administrations, “frequently revealed serious compliance issues resulting in harm to children,” the two physicians, Scott Allen and Pamela McPherson, said in a letter to the Senate’s Whistleblower Protection Caucus.
The doctors said they had “watched in horror” as migrant children were separated from their families over the past several months in a bid to deter illegal border crossers. But they cautioned that the Trump administration’s fallback position may not be much better.
“The likely alternative — detention of children with a parent — also poses high risk of harm to children and their families,” said the doctors, who currently serve as “subject-matter experts” for the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. “In our professional opinion, there is no amount of programming that can ameliorate the harms created by the very act of confining children to detention centers.”
Kaiser Health News’s Christina Jewett and Shefali Luthra write for the Washington Post, “From Crib To Court: Trump Administration Summons Immigrant Infants”:
The Trump administration has summoned at least 70 infants to immigration court for their own deportation proceedings since Oct. 1, according to Justice Department data provided to Kaiser Health News. These are children who need frequent touching and bonding with a parent and naps every few hours, and some were of breastfeeding age, medical experts say. They’re unable to speak and still learning when it’s day versus night.
“For babies, the basics are really important. It’s the holding, the proper feeding, proper nurturing,” said Shadi Houshyar, who directs early childhood and child welfare initiatives at advocacy group Families USA.
The number of infants under age 1 involved has been rising — up threefold from 24 infants in the fiscal year that ended last Sept. 30, and 46 infants the year before.