Photo via Kaivan Shroff/ U.S. Customs & Border Patrol
U.S. President Donald Trump has made it clear through repeated action that he will use the lives of thousands of migrant children and their parents as bargaining chips in his attempts to fund a border wall and other racially-charged immigration policies.
Currently, the U.S. government is in custody of more than 11,432 children, most of whom were separated from immigrant parents or guardians by U.S. federal agents. Over the past two months, more than 2,000 children have been taken into custody as a direct result of a Trump administration “zero tolerance” policy for unsanctioned border crossings. Trump and his affiliates have repeatedly made false claims that the familial separations are the result of a rule enacted by Democrats.
Often, families are seeking asylum from violence that is plaguing huge swaths of Latin America. Because U.S. officials are denying asylum applicants at every turn, those families often cross the border wherever possible. Whether they then seek help or are caught by law enforcement, border patrol agencies arrest the adults and detain any youth.
In a report for Texas Monthly, Katy Vine reported that arrested parents are often told that their kids are being taken to receive a bath, only to find out later that they have been permanently separated.
“...the officers say, ‘I’m going to take your child to get bathed.’ That’s one we see again and again,” Vine wrote. “The child goes off, and in a half an hour, twenty minutes, the parent inquires, ‘Where is my five-year-old?’ ‘Where’s my seven-year-old?’ ‘This is a long bath.’ And they say, ‘You won’t be seeing your child again.’”
Over the past week, journalists and lawmakers were given their first look at life inside of those youth detention centers, describing overcrowded chain-link cages and crying children denied any compassionate touch. After seeing the inhumane conditions that migrant children are being subject to under U.S. custody, some 4,600 mental health professionals have joined together to call on the Trump administration to end its “zero tolerance” border policy.
“These children are thrust into detention centers often without an advocate or an attorney and possibly even without the presence of any adult who can speak their language,” the petition reads. “We want you to imagine for a moment what this might be like for a child: to flee the place you have called your home because it is not safe to stay and then embark on a dangerous journey to an unknown destination, only to be ripped apart from your sole sense of security with no understanding of what just happened to you or if you will ever see your family again. And that the only thing you have done to deserve this, is to do what children do: stay close to the adults in their lives for security.”
Responding to photos and film clips from inside the shelters, a number of high-profile legislators, officials, and celebrities have stepped up to rebuke Trump’s policy and call on the president to reunite the torn families.
BREAKING: The U.S. government released horrifying footage of a child detention center in Texas. Together, we must defeat this inhumane and un-American action. pic.twitter.com/NGUyhQJ6TB— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) June 18, 2018
“What the administration has decided to do is to separate children from their parents to try to send a message that, if you cross the border with children, your children are going to be ripped away from you,” Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said on CBS’ Face the Nation. “That is traumatizing to the children, who are innocent victims. And it is contrary to our values in this country.”
Still, for President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who first announced the zero tolerance immigration policy in April, the controversial measure is just another token in an upcoming battle for longterm immigration policy. Speaking on Monday morning, Sessions falsely claimed that funding a border wall would stop the fracturing of families.
“If we build a wall, we pass some legislation, we close some loopholes, we won’t face these terrible choices," Sessions said, according to NBC News.
Likewise, Trump took to Twitter on Friday morning to call for similar legislative action and once again accuse migrant children of being gang members.
“Why don’t the Democrats give us the votes to fix the world’s worst immigration laws?” Trump tweeted. “Where is the outcry for the killings and crime being caused by gangs and thugs, including MS-13, coming into our country illegally?”
But even close Trump associates including Senator Lindsey Graham aren’t buying the president’s blame-shifting, telling CNN on Friday that “President Trump could stop this policy with a phone call. I’ll go tell him. If you don’t like families’ being separated, you can tell D.H.S. stop doing it.”