The first phase of undoing the Republican policy of separating children from their parents at the border is over. The July 26 deadline to reunite all families passed; the result is about ⅓ are together again. The details of the other thousands of parents and kids are complicated. For example 431 parents were deported without their children, it’s not clear they will ever be reunited. 21 kids are still separated because their parents failed a background check. According to past reports, some kids or their parents are simply just lost, the system can’t find them.
The pain of this separation policy will continue for years. Right now we still have to make sure every single other child separated from their parents is treated humanely and legally and eventually reunited with their family. Long term, the mental health of some of these kids will be permanently harmed by the trauma of separation and incarceration. And we’ve yet to hear about any abuses inside the detention system; given past experience there are horrors to come.
The whole thing has been an atrocity. A deliberate policy of white nationalism enacted by the Trump Administration and the Republican Party. It’s one thing to have differing opinions on immigration quotas or asylum procedures. It is another entirely to snatch children from their mothers. America committed a deliberate human rights abuse. Trump’s rhetoric demonizing and dehumanizing immigrants set the stage. The deep racism of many Americans encouraged this outrage along with the silent complicitly of so many citizens who want to just ignore an atrocity as it happens.
For the past six weeks I’ve been making an effort to tweet every single day about the unfolding story. I’ve been worried it’d be far too easy for this human rights crisis to go unnoticed, for us to forget that there were thousands of children living in cages and crying for their parents. So I’ve carefully read every single story I could find, highlighted something new every single day. I can’t keep that level of engagement up going forward. It seems absurd to allow this atrocity to just go on the pile along with all the other horrible Trump outrages. This particular event, the abuse of children, is singularly evil.
Between May 5 and June 9 at least 2,342 children were snatched from their parents because of a Trump / Republican policy change. That new policy was suspended June 20 but the children are still separated. They joined another 1,768 kids that were taken from their parents Oct 2016 – Feb 2018. As of last week there were a total of 11,869 children being held in HHS custody. These numbers sound comfortingly precise but the reality is a lot more confused. The immigrant child custody system has never worked well and was stressed significantly by adding 25% more kids in one month.
So where are the kids? The government has not published a comprehensive list or map. Several journalism agencies are trying: Reveal and ProPublica both have maps of immigration detention facilities for children, based in part on data from the Texas Tribune. These range from a 10 bed Catholic shelter in the Bronx to a converted Walmart for 1500 kids in Brownsville, TX. So far the reporting is that these shelters have been treating children decently. But between the strain on the shelter system and the historical lack of oversight it seems likely more kids will be abused. Just being separated from their parents is hugely damaging.
What’s next for the kids? The June 20 executive order reduces the number of children being separated in the future but does nothing to help the ones who were already snatched. This CNN timeline summarizes court decisions on what happens next.
It seems likely that “reunited with their parents” means “placed into immigrant detention with their parents”. This creates a new problem, kids can only be held in immigrant jails for 20 days. So far there is no solution proposed for that limit. Expect another crisis maybe as early as July 10.
Some of the snatched kids have already been given back to their parents. But it’s very unclear how the rest of the kids will be reunited. HHS is talking like they have excellent records. But lawyers for parents say that’s not really true. Many parents don’t have legal representation at all, no help for finding their kids. There’s also a lot of confusion as some parents may have already been deported and various kids have different statuses. The fact that HHS says they are building a system now does not inspire confidence; is that system going to be working and complete in two weeks?
The separation policy is an atrocity. It was deliberately engineered to cause significant harm to children for political gain. The baffling array of different motivations stated for the policy only added to the confusion. But two stated reasons for taking kids away stand out as clearly important. One, to create a deterrent to future immigrants. And two, to create pressure in Congress to change immigration law. Holding 2,342 children hostage for these goals is monstrous.
I literally lay awake at night wondering about what is happening to these children. I feel powerless to do much to help them. I’ve given money, I’ve marched in protest, I’ve called my Congressman. Lately I’ve been trying to tweet one humanizing thing about these kids a day, just to keep some attention on a continuing human rights crisis.