“The vast majority, vast, vast majority of children who are in the care of H.H.S. right now — 10,000 of the 12,000 — were sent here alone by their parents. That is when they were separated….10,000 of those currently in custody were sent by their parents with strangers to undertake a completely dangerous and deadly travel alone. We now care for them. We have high standards. We give them meals, we give them education, we give them medical care. There is videos, there is TVs, I visited the detention centers myself.”
– Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen
6/18/18 White House Press Conference
To hear the Trump administration explain things, it sounds like there are 10,000 reckless parents who selfishly pawned their children off on others in an attempt to get them to America. The other option, of course, is that there is an “infestation” of young MS-13 members who have mobilized themselves and planned to infiltrate our borders by pretending to be crying 2 year olds. We are heroes for tolerating this invasion of baby gangbangers — we even give them TVs! Who cares about their shitty parents, the ones who needlessly decided to endanger the lives of their own children? These children should be grateful to live in our mesh prisons.
In reality, the bulk of the 12,000 children who are now living in America’s camps likely went to hell and back before they ever started their journeys to the US.
Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador form one of the most violent regions in the world, known as the Northern Triangle. In 2015 alone, this region accounted for 110,000 asylum seekers — and a good deal of them were unaccompanied minors. Even before 2015, the number of children fleeing their home countries in the triangle for the US increased so much each year that the UN Refugee Agency asked 404 unaccompanied children detained by US authorities to explain why they left. Their answers can largely be summed up as fear: fear of the gangs taking over their cities, fear of forced recruitment into human smuggling, fear of being killed after witnessing a crime, or fear of sexual assault. In some cases the children were victims of violent or sexual crime at the time they left; other times, they knew it was a very likely possibility and considered it safer to risk coming to America.
With over 5,000 murders in 2016, El Salvador has a murder rate of 82.84 — the highest in the world (as high as that number it is, it’s an improvement from 2015, when El Salvador’s murder rate was 105.44.). In 2014, the rate of sexual offenses against children in El Salvador was a horrifying 85.5.
The UNHCR study found that for children from El Salvador, “he children described their everyday challenges of evading extortion; witnessing murders; and navigating threats to themselves and their families, friends and neighbors. Children who had not yet been victims of violence spoke of their own fears and their families’ fear with the same inevitability. The girls shared their fears of sexual violence.”
Honduras has the second highest international murder rate, with 56.52 murders per 100,000 citizens. The rate of sexual assault against children was 66.9 in 2013. The children from Honduras reported abuse at home, deprivation, and “forty-four percent…were threatened with or were victims of violence by organized armed criminal actors.” In 2014 a Washington Post photographer documented the work of Honduran police. The pictures he took are a good indicator of the gang violence that permeate the country.
So children are fleeing their homes, everything and everyone they know, because the risk of being murdered or raped is so high that they think the potentially deadly journey to America is a better option. And instead of embracing children who have survived horrors most of us adults will never know, we lock them up and do all the things they were afraid would happen to them in their home countries.
Ripping children from their parents isn’t the only problem with our immigration system. Abuse and mistreatment are rampant in the system. On the heels of the family separation policy, some detention centers have received national attention over the abuse migrant children have suffered by border patrol agents. But the abuse is nothing new.
In 2014, seven year old Nayely Beltran made headlines throughout Texas when it was reported she was suffering from a malignant brain tumor while living in the Karnes County Residential Center. Even though Nayely and her mother had passed the first part of the test for asylum, she was denied treatment by ICE. It wasn’t until public outcry became too great that ICE finally allowed the pair to leave the facility so Nayely could get treatment.
Nayely was lucky — it took months, but she was able to get treatment. In 2014, the Office of Inspector General and Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties documented the abuses unaccompanied minors faced: “One quarter of the children reported physical abuse, including sexual assault, the use of stress positions, and beatings by Border Patrol agents. More than half reported verbal abuse, including death threats. More than half also reported denial of necessary medical care—resulting, at times, in hospitalization. Eighty percent reported inadequate food and water.”
In 2015 CASA sent Texas Governor Greg Abbott a letter requesting that the state deny license applications for detention centers for ICE. “Since the opening of these two detention facilities, ICE has failed to ensure adequate access to and quality of care, failed to obtain informed consent to medical treatment, failed to exercise adequate oversight and accountability, and sanctioned questionable medical ethics.” The letter documented the repeated failure to provide medical care to the migrants, and highlighted individual stories.
CASA said young children were told to drink more water as cure for fevers, and not provided with any care from specialists. In one case, a three year old girl’s eardrum exploded, and and she was diagnosed with an ear infection. The doctor gave her a prescription for Vicks Vaporub, and told her mother “she had either a virus or an infection that would go away in two to three weeks.”
In another case, a three year old boy and his mother were detained at Artesia Family Residential Center. The child had watched his father rape and beat his mother daily at home in Honduras, and one day when the three year old boy tried to intervene, his father beat him and put a gun to his head. Both mother and child suffered from severe PTSD, with the child repeatedly expressing fear over the ICE officers shooting him. A psychologist that interviewed him concluded “it is my opinion that both mother and son will continue deteriorating emotionally until they are in a safe family environment.” Instead, the pair would remain at Artesia for over 3 months, with the child continuing to fear the new men with guns in his life.
The ACLU’s report of neglect and abuse by the CBP shares similar stores. One pregnant teenager wrote that agents yelled at her and other pregnant minors that the agents “didn’t ask you to come to our country” and that the girls were there “to contaminate the US with [their] babies.”
The reports goes on to say “when an infant detained in that same room soiled his pants through his diaper, the agents made his mother remove his pants and throw them in the trash. The agents did not, however, provide the infant with another diaper or pair of pants, even though the room was extremely cold.The child eventually became sick.”
Olivia López, a former employee at the Karnes County Residential Center, spoke to the LA Times in 2015 about her experiences working there, and her reasons for quitting. One of the prisoners was a five year old girl who was raped on her journey to the US. The child lost weight and started wearing diapers again. When López told her boss what was going on, her boss told her she was wrong.
Families aren’t just going on a dangerous trek to America because they want to steal jobs and kill white women and get free TVs, or whatever other misinformation has spread. They’re coming here because it’s the least horrible option. Mistreatment of immigrants by ICE is nothing new; it’s not a Trump thing, it’s an ICE thing. Do not be fooled by measures to reunite families while holding them captive — children don’t belong in cages, with our without their parents.