Last month, a local incident involving ICE brought the immigration issue to our front door. More recently, two stories about children lost after being taken into custody and young children separated from their families at the border populated the headlines and pulled at our hearts.
First, a clarification: The two stories were often conflated into one, with many believing that nearly 1500 children separated from their families at the border were then lost by the system – in some cases, to human traffickers. While there is no excuse for taking children into the care of an agency and then losing track of them, the 1500 children were those that arrived at the border without a parent or guardian – aka unaccompanied minors. The children were subsequently processed by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) and turned over to a sponsor. However, it appears that there may have been little effort to do background checks on or follow-ups with those sponsors. Congress says it is looking into the agency practices and need for safeguards.
The issue of separating migrant children from their families is another concern. Earlier in May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new, “zero tolerance” policy that includes criminal penalties to deter illegal border crossings. If a parent is with a child when apprehended for ‘illegal entry’, he or she is taken from the parent. That said, many parents have legally presented themselves to border officials as they were seeking asylum and had their children taken away. The stories are heart-wrenching: Hundreds of children – by some reports more than 700 — have been separated from their families since October and this policy will drive a steep increase.
Once taken, the children are placed in the custody of the DHS’s Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement – the same office that handles unaccompanied minors arriving at the border. The adults are sent to detention centers to await trial.
There is no law mandating separation, according to a fact-checking article in the New York Times. Further, the current administration has pointed to the Democrats as the instigators of such a law – another untruth in a long line of lies propagated by this current government.
According to The Hill, Senator Diane Feinstein plans introduced a bill in that would prevent the separation of children from their immigrant families at the border
“It’s hard to conceive of a policy more horrific than intentionally separating children from their parents as a form of punishment. … This is not what the United States of America should be,” Feinstein said in a Thursday (5/31) statement.
Of deeper concern, the ACLU has uncovered evidence that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have physically, sexually and verbally abused migrant children – this is a clear violation of U.S. law and international human rights laws that protect migrants, refugees and asylum seekers regardless of their country of origin. “The violations are numerous,” says the ACLU.
The law requires that CBP release unaccompanied children within 72 hours, and that all allegations of child abuse are reported to law enforcement, child protective services or the FBI. But the government has failed to hold the officials accountable, and the escalation of anti-immigrant policies and hateful rhetoric are likely to exacerbate the treatment of immigrant children.
Call to Action – Contact your Senators and Representatives!
Demand the DHS step up efforts to find children who have been lost due to the lax agency practices, that they increase accountability and strengthen background checks for sponsors.Call for an end to the practice of separating young migrant children from their families. Support Feinstein’s legislation and call for a similar bill in the House. Demand that the CBP be held accountable for any abuse, that officials who have been in charge of the agency who turned a blind eye to the abuse be fired immediately.
Sign the ACLU petition to hold the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection accountable.