[CONTENT WARNING: Separated Children, Donald Trump]
This story isn’t going away. Rachael Maddow had a gutting episode earlier this week, where a whistle-blower released recorded video from inside a camp for children located in New York City. The part that stuck with me most was when employees coached these kids to avoid reporters.
“…The other thing that is more important, and that I’m not supposed to be telling you, but I’m going to tell you the truth,” a staffer at the facility can be overheard saying in Spanish in the audio clip. “If, for whatever reason, you tell a reporter [about your situation here], you know what’s going to happen to your case? It’s going to be on the news. And then one doesn’t know what’s going to happen — if you’re going to last here a long time. I’m not trying to scare you, I’m just telling you — it’s the truth.”
This is straight-up intimidation: blab to reporters, and you’ll never see your parents again. Last time I talked about how the executive branch was scrambling to bury the evidence of what they’re doing. While we normally think of this in terms of destroying documents and refusing questions, their efforts are much more extensive and sinister. This includes scattering children far and wide across the country so there’s no one place to protest, tweaking budgets to reduce public funds for legal aid, and using children to blackmail their parents into giving up on asylum applications, wiping away the paperwork by closing the case.
Worse still, in immigration court there is no guarantee of a defence lawyer, even though we know they make a huge difference. The system is asking three-year-olds to fill out forms, find a lawyer, and assemble an argument for why they should be granted asylum. Kids who can’t even speak, let alone speak English, are reliant on the charity of private immigrant groups to represent them. Immigration court has been problematic for years, but Trump’s zero-tolerance approach is flooding the system with new cases and making the existing disaster that much worse.
But we have a problem that I haven’t seen many acknowledge. There are thousands of kids currently separated from their parents, and despite the lies of the authorities we know “several hundred parents appear to have been deported without their children in April alone” and the prospects for the rest are pretty bleak.
The HHS plan states parents will be reunited with their children before deportations, but this seems highly unlikely. Hundreds of these children have already been sent to state foster care facilities across the country where they have become wards of the state. Their care and custody decisions will be handled first by state welfare agencies and then by a state court. Reunification becomes less likely as the length of separation increases.
Immigrant parents have the same legal right to the care and custody of their children as American citizens. Without a finding of unfitness, immigrant parents should be granted reunification with their children. However, history shows courts frequently use a parent’s immigration status as a proxy for fitness. […] State courts and welfare agencies have frequently concluded that a parent’s undocumented status and their willingness to cross the border illegally was proof enough of parental unfitness that could justify the termination of parental rights.
Where are these hundreds of kids going? Into Christian foster care, in some cases.
A Michigan state official told Rewire.News there is no real system in place for finding the parents of children separated from their families by the Trump administration. Some of those children are being housed in the state by Bethany Christian Services, a religious adoption agency with a troubling record. A Michigan state official told Rewire.News there is no real system in place for finding the parents of children separated from their families by the Trump administration. Some of those children are being housed in the state by Bethany Christian Services, a religious adoption agency with a troubling record. […]
Last year, 17-year-old Alex Robinson gave birth at a Catholic hospital in Muskegon, Michigan. Robinson had been on a beach trip with friends and did not realize she was pregnant until she went into labor. While her mother was five hours away in Illinois, a counselor told Robinson she could give the baby up for adoption without anyone knowing, according to a local news report.
Within a few hours of the birth, a Bethany representative was at the hospital with adoption paperwork. But after returning home, Robinson changed her mind. She ultimately had to fight Bethany in court to regain custody of her child. “They exploited her,” Robinson’s mother, Leah McDonald, told the news team Local 4 Defenders. “You know, they took advantage of her because they wanted her baby.”
This was not an isolated incident for Bethany. The agency’s 2017 tax forms show it provided “pregnancy counseling services protecting unborn children” to “3,078 expectant parents” under its domestic adoption program. But such counseling often amounts to coercion, as journalist Kathryn Joyce, author of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, has reported.
“They come on really pro-life: look at the baby, look at its heartbeat, don’t kill it,” one woman, whom Joyce called Carol Jordan, recalled of her experience with Bethany in South Carolina in 1999. “Then, once you say you won’t kill it, they ask, What can you give it? You have nothing to offer, but here’s a family that goes on a cruise every year.”
But in the Christian adoption movement’s rush to do good, those complexities were forgotten, along with the children’s families. The movement began to refer to adoption as a means of “redeeming orphans”—saving them just as Christians are redeemed when they are born again—and their families became either forgotten footnotes or ugly caricatures. Adoption agencies, anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers that referred mothers to these agencies, and Christian ministries often cast domestic “birth mothers” as either selfless martyrs or hopeless, promiscuous addicts—bad influences from whom children must be saved.[…]
The reality, of course, was more complicated. Many children were relinquished for adoption because of poverty alone. Some families who gave up their children for adoption later explained that they’d thought the child would return when they were older or that the adoptive family was becoming a sponsor of the birth family back home, and would help them transcend their circumstances. On rarer occasions, there were stories of how babies were simply bought or kidnapped.
A few people in my social circles, like this person, have wondered why “pro-life” groups haven’t stepped up to help. Having read what I’ve read, I can now say A) they have stepped up, and B) that’s a bad thing, given their history of coercive adoption. There is a non-trivial chance these kids will be permanently separated from their families, and some people in ICE may know this.
What are Republicans doing about this? Blaming each other, holding rambling, conspiracy-filled hearings about Hillary Clinton’s emails, failing to come up with a legislative solution despite controlling the government, and mocking people who care about their fellow human beings.
What are Democrats doing?
Before we could get in, CBP insisted we had to watch a government propaganda video. There’s no other way to describe it – it’s like a movie trailer. It was full of dramatic narration about the “illegals” crossing our border, complete with gory pictures about the threats that these immigrants bring to the United States, from gangs to skin rashes. The star of the show is CBP, which, according to the video, has done a great job driving down the numbers. […]
The stench – body odor and fear – hits the second the door is opened. The first cages are full of men. The chain link is about 12-15 feet high, and the men are tightly packed. I don’t think they could all lie down at the same time. There’s a toilet at the back of the cage behind a half-wall, but no place to shower or wash up. One man kept shouting, “A shower, please. Just a shower.” […]
Then I asked them how long they had been there – and the answers were all over the map, from a few days to nearly two weeks (72 hours max?). The CBP agents rushed to correct the detained men, claiming that their answers couldn’t be right. My immigration specialist on the trip who speaks fluent Spanish made sure the men understood that the question was, “How long have you been in the building?” Their answers didn’t change.
Cage after cage. Same questions, same answers.
Next we came into the area where the children were held. These cages were bigger with far more people. In the center of the cage, there’s a freestanding guard tower probably a story or story-and-a-half taller to look down over the children. The girls are held separately in their own large cage. The children told us that they had come to the United States with family and didn’t know where they had been taken. Eleven years old. Twelve. Locked in a cage with strangers. Many hadn’t talked to their mothers or fathers. They didn’t know where they were or what would happen to them next. The children were quiet. Early afternoon, and they just sat. Some were on thin mats with foil blankets pulled over their heads. They had nothing – no books, no toys, no games. They looked shell shocked.
Elizabeth Warren is touring these facilities, along with several other Democrats, and altered the public to the horrors they’re finding. The Democrats are also asking for investigations and drafting their own legislation to eliminate the problem. Outside of politics, the ACLU has submitted legal cases and already scored victories, seventeen states have launched a lawsuit demanding these kids be reunited, and hundreds of protesters have made their demands known.
These Trump Hotels may disappear, but for the kids that pass through them the nightmare is only beginning. If ever there was a time to step up and engage in activism, now would be the time. Here’s a reminder of how you can help:
As I type this, in fact, hundreds of thousands are protesting these cruel policies. Consider joining in, you could help protect vulnerable kids from greedy Christian adoption agencies.