Their breaths drag between each sob like they can’t get enough air. They manage just two words, over and over: “Papá” and “Mami.”
ProPublica obtained audio of children who were just separated from their parents, some as young as 4, none older than 10. They sob for almost eight minutes. In between the moans of the child next to her, Alison Jimena Valencia Madrid, 6, tries to get an official’s attention, whimpering:
At least can I go with my aunt? I want her to come. I want my aunt to come so she can take me to my house. I have her number. Are you going to call my aunt so that when I’m done eating, she can pick me up? I have her number memorized. 34 72 … My mommy says that I’ll go with my aunt and that she’ll come to pick me up there as quickly as possible.
Since October 1, 2017, at least 2,700 children have been taken from their parents. The vast majority were separated after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a zero tolerance policy to criminally prosecute every adult who enters the country without documentation.
Sending parents to federal prison or to detention centers means separating them from their children — including parents who have proven parentage and are seeking asylum — and this past week, the country saw where those children were being sent.
Photographs of hundreds of children in cages with foil sheets for blankets sparked such a public outcry that on Wednesday, President Trump signed an executive order replacing his administration’s policy with a new one.
Now, instead of detaining children in separate facilities away from their parents, the administration plans to hold families in detention together — indefinitely.
That is not required by a single statue or court ruling. Nor does the Trump administration appear to have a plan for how to reunite parents and children who have already been separated from each other — or an answer to critics who point out that the Flores settlement agreement prohibits holding migrant children in custody for more than 20 days.
All Trump’s order does is replace a policy to detain immigrant children in separate centers from their parents with a policy to detain them together.
It will still unacceptably criminalize – and traumatize – children in prison-like facilities.
And it will dangerously prolong their incarceration.
“Perhaps the plan all along was to do a thing so egregious that, when you stop doing it, you still get to do what you wanted to do all along,” tweeted activist Brittany Packnett Wednesday. “Detain entire families. Indefinitely. In camps. And call it humane.”
We’re glad Trump backed down from his morally repugnant, indefensible policy of separating children from their families and imprisoning them in cages.
But his new executive order comes from the same anti-immigrant wellspring that led him to demonize immigrants as “criminals” or “animals” who “infest” our country. And it taps into a history that includes the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, splitting up enslaved families at auction, and Native American settlement schools that took children away from their parents.
Immigration law is not what’s changed since the Obama and Bush administrations. What has changed — drastically — is who is interpreting it.
We’re fighting back. When administration officials tried early this week to deny family separation was happening, we knew they were lying: our Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative is representing detained immigrants right now who include parents who’ve been separated from their children at ports of entry.
On June 30, we’re national partners in the Families Belong Together rally, when people around the country will come together in recognition of the fact that incarcerating entire families is not the solution to family separation.
The Trump administration has chosen to promote an extreme anti-immigrant agenda that is inhumane, morally reprehensible and completely unnecessary. This executive order is not a fix.
P.S. Here are some other pieces we think are valuable this week:
- It’s all too much, and we still have to care by Dahlia Lithwick for Slate
- A physician in South Texas on an unnerving encounter with an 8-year-old boy in immigration detention by Amanda Schaffer for The New Yorker
- Behind the criminal immigration law: eugenics and white supremacy by Ian MacDougall for ProPublica
- Trumpism, realized by Adam Serwer for The Atlantic
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