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Is this what he meant when promising to “Make America Great Again”? Here’s what you need to know about the detention centers for immigrant children along the U.S. – Mexico Border.
This week, the New Orleans City Council issued a demand for the end of detention of children at the U.S. Mexico border.
As Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speak across town at the National Sheriffs convention, the City Council President and Vice President’s office filed a joint resolution for Thursday’s full Council meeting demanding an end to the un-American and inhumane DHS policy of forcibly separating immigrant children from their parents.
“The Trump Administration is perpetrating a heartless violation of human rights right here in America,” said Council Vice President Helena Moreno. “These innocent children are being terrorized in our name, and I simply won’t stand for it. This evil must stop immediately, and these children must be reunited with their parents without delay.”
The Trump policy, called “zero tolerance” by the Department of Homeland Security, states that “children whose parents are referred for prosecution will be placed with the Department of Health and Human Services,” and explicitly lays out a series of “next steps” for parents to follow after their children are separated. The policy has been in place since at least early May of 2018 but has been contemplated by the Trump administration since 2017.
“I will continue to publicly condemn the Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ enforcement of their new immigration policy to separate families,” said Council President Jason Williams. “Forcibly separating children from parents as a matter of course is inhumane and unnecessary, and as an African American and a descendant of American slaves, this policy is evocative of some of darkest days in this countries young history. This policy is truly self-inflicted wound, and like many we have seen from the current administration, is antithetical to American values and basic humanity.”
The resolution calls for an end to this policy and immediate reunification for those children separated. Copies will be sent to the entire Louisiana Congressional Delegation, the Attorney General, and the President.
Within the last six weeks, nearly 2,000 migrant children have been separated from their families while crossing the U.S.–Mexico border under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy. That means an average of 45 migrant children are being ripped from their families per day and placed in detention centers on their own.
Reports have begun to emerge of horrifying conditions in these detention centers, several of which have been compared to jails. Photos from one facility in McAllen, Texas, show children being held in cages.
Members of the Trump administration have made conflicting statements about the justification behind separating families: President Trump himself blamed the policy on Democrats, while DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen denied its existence. In truth, the practice is new, a direct result of the administration’s extreme “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, which was first announced on May 7.
Under this new policy, all adults who do not enter the U.S. through a port of entry are supposed to be criminally prosecuted. This is what results in the family separation: Adults have to appear before a federal judge before undergoing deportation procedures, so they’re held in federal custody while awaiting trial. Meanwhile, their children — who are not referred for prosecution, and thus aren’t incarcerated with their parents — end up being sent into the custody of the Office for Refugee Resettlement.
It’s incredibly difficult for families to reunite once they make their way through this byzantine process, as there is no formal protocol that ensures that separated migrant families are deported back to their home country together.
There’s been a deluge of coverage of the detention centers in recent weeks, and Trump has faced mounting backlash for his zero-tolerance policy. Here’s what to know.
There are at least 100 shelters in 17 states
Kenneth Wolfe, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesman, told the Los Angeles Times that the government contracts with 100 shelters that are located in 17 states. Some of biggest centers are in McAllen and Brownsville, both in Texas, and Estrella del Norte in Tucson.
What we do know is that the number is increasing. Last week, the Trump administration announced the creation of a new “tent city” just outside of El Paso that would house between 1,000 and 5,000 kids.
More than 11,000 children are currently in detention
According to Wolfe, the aforementioned 100 facilities house more than 11,000 children. As of Monday, the official count was 11,785.
At the central “Ursula” facility in McAllen, Texas — which one official called the “epicenter” of the family-separation policy — hundreds of unaccompanied migrant children are currently detained in cages made of metal wire, according to reports. At the center in Brownsville, Texas, approximately 1,500 boys between the ages of 10 to 17 spend an astonishing 22 hours per day inside the converted former Walmart, which one reporter described as “like a prison or jail.”
Federal agents have been accused of taking children away without giving their parents fair warning
In an interview with Texas Monthly, Anne Chandler, the executive director of the Houston office of the nonprofit Tahirih Justice Center, said that she’s heard accounts of agents taking children away from their parents, ostensibly to give them baths, and never returning.
“The officers say, ‘I’m going to take your child to get bathed.’ That’s one we see again and again. “Your child needs to come with me for a bath,’” Chandler said. “The child goes off, and in a half an hour, 20 minutes, the parent inquires, ‘Where is my 5-year-old?’ ‘Where’s my 7-year-old?’ ‘This is a long bath.’ And they say, ‘You won’t be seeing your child again.’”
Last week, an undocumented immigrant from Honduras told an attorney that federal agents ripped away her daughter while she was breastfeeding her in a Texas detention center.
The conditions inside the centers are reportedly horrifying
Children are literally being kept in cages, though border agents are “uncomfortable” with this characterization. “It’s not inaccurate, but they’re very uncomfortable with using the word ‘cages,’” read a statement from the U.S. Border Patrol.