By Miriam Raftery
June 21, 2018 (San Diego) – East County legislators and California’s state attorney general are taking action in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order to end separation of immigrant children and parents. Some argue that the directive does not go far enough to protect children and babies, since they could still be detained with parents and since it’s unclear how or when youngsters already taken from parents will be reunited.
Trump's reversal came after audiotape of terrified, crying children at a detention facility was released by ProPublica and after a judge sharply criticized the Trump administration upon learning that records were not kept when some children were taken from their anguished parents, who have been unable to get any information on their children's whereabouts
"I can’t understand this," the exasperated judge reportedly told the attorney. "If someone at the jail takes your wallet, they give you a receipt. They take your kids, and you get nothing? Not even a slip of paper?”
Adding to the horror, news reports reveal that some chldren in detention facilities have been given powerful psychotropic drugs without consent, the Trump administration is warehousing babies and toddlers in "tender age" facilities according to USA Today, where staff are reportedly instructed not to pick up or comfort crying children, and some separated children have been sent to a facility being sued for alleged abuses dating back several years including allegations that some children were tied to chairs, stripped naked and left alone in chilly rooms, in some cases with bags placed over their heads--images evocative of adult prisoner abuse at the infamous Abu Ghraib. The earlier victims were minors old enough to tell their stories, but who will protect defenseless infants and very young children?
Today, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced he will join 10 states in a lawsuit alleging that the Trump administration’s family separation policy violates the fundamental due process rights of parents to be together with their children, as well as other constitutional and statutory claims. The Attorneys General ask the Trump Administration to immediately address the inadequacies in the President’s executive order and create a process to reunify the thousands of families torn apart by the policy.
“Children belong with their families, not alone and fearful in metal cages. We are filing this lawsuit because ripping children from their parents is unlawful, wrong and heartless,” says Becerra. “President Trump yesterday signed an empty and meaningless order that claims to take back policies that he put in place himself as a political stunt. Meanwhile these children, their parents, and people around the world need answers regarding what comes next. This policy could have devastating consequences on children’s health and wellbeing. Dividing families who are being persecuted and fleeing violence is simply appalling. Separating children from their families is a new low, even for the Trump Administration.”
Earlier this week, Attorney General Becerra joined New Mexico Attorney General Hector H. Balderas and 19 others in demanding the U.S. Department of Justice immediately end its separation policy. In their letter, the Attorneys General explained how these compulsory separations create serious concerns regarding the violation of children’s rights, constitutional principles of due process and equal protection.
Also today, Congresswoman Susan Davis led her House colleagues in calling on the Trump administration to immediately begin reuniting separated families. Davis, whose district includes part of El Cajon, toured a child detention facility in the city this week. The letter asks key questions on how the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services will reunite separated family members.
“Since thousands of children are still detained and separated from their families, the Administration owes it to the American people to tell us exactly how and when they plan to reunite them,” Rep. Davis, a Democrat, said.
Specifically, the letter includes this language:
Despite statements from Secretary Nielsen during the June 18, 2018 press conference stating that separated children are being returned to their parents, there have been no confirmed cases of family reunification after children were placed in HHS custody. We join the American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, and the American Public Health Association in their stated concerns about the impact of family separation on the physical and mental health of children, and urge the Administration to reunite families immediately.
Given these concerns, we ask that you clarify DHS and HHS policy regarding the over 2,000 children currently in custody and any future children that will be separated from their parents as a result of this Administration’s recent immigration decisions.
- Please state what processes are in place at DHS and HHS to coordinate the reunification of children with their families after being separated. To what extent are the agencies sharing information?
- What are the active measures taken by the agencies to communicate information about the children’s whereabouts with their families, attorneys, and advocates?
- How many children have been reunited with the parents they traveled with since the establishment of the “zero-tolerance policy”? How many children have been placed with other relatives or caretakers that HHS contacted?
- Many of the detained children have the contact information for other relatives who live in the United States, but some of these relatives do not have legal immigration status. Is this contact information available for deportation purposes or shared Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)?
Meanwhile Congressman Juan Vargas, a Democrat whose district includes border areas in San Diego and Imperial Counties, confronted President Trump in a Capitol hallway on Tuesday, calling out, “"Quit separating the kids! They're separating the children! Mr. President, don't you have kids?” (View video) Vargas later told 10 News he became angered thinking how he would feel if his children were taken from him.
The President has called on Congress to enact immigration reforms. But thus far, the two parties are at an impasse. The Trump administration had been tying protection for “dreamers” or immigrants who came here as kids years ago, as well as protection for recently detained migrant children, to passage of a bill that would sharply curtail legal immigration and cut down grounds for being granted asylum at a time when refugee families from Central America are pouring toward the border, fleeing violent cartel and gangs that are kidnapping children to coerce them into criminal acts.
But Republican Congressman Darrell Issa puts the blame on Democrats for refusing to consider such measures. “ It’s nearly impossible to pass any immigration bill when one party categorically refuses to come to the table to talk. Yesterday, Democrats rejected a Presidential fix,” Issa states in a press release. “Today, they rejected a permanent legislative one. At this stage House Democrats appear to be more committed to political grandstanding than they are to advancing meaningful, permanent solutions for our badly broken immigration system.”
East County Magazine reached out to some members of the Lemon Grove City Council to inquire about immigrant girls in a detention center in their community.
Councilwoman Jennifer Mendoza cite a Washington Post article, which states,
NonPartisan fact checkers agree that the recent surge in separations is the result of Trump's order. He signed off on prosecuting all migrants who cross the border, including thsoe with young children. Once they're locked up, the administarion declares the kids to be unaccompanied minors and turns them over to a division of HHS to care for. The White House has also begun interpreting a 1997 legal agreement and a 2008 bipartisan human trafficking bill as requiring the separation of families. Neither George W. Bush or Barack Obama took this posture.
Councilwoman Mendoza told ECM, “I followed up with the Sheriff's department community service officer over the weekend with regard to migrant children being housed in Lemon Grove.” She did not disclose the exact location, to protect the privacy and safety of the children. But she adds, “This is a facility that has been caring for unaccompanied migrant minors for years. I am assured that the children are safe and well cared for in a group-home type environment. I have also been told that every effort is being made to reunite them with family members as soon as possible.”
But she adds, “That being said, separating these children from their families can be quite traumatic for them. I do think that we, as a country, can do better for these children. There must be a way that the families can be held together. It is my understanding that these are otherwise law-abiding individuals whose only crime is entering the United States illegally, searching for a better and/or safer life for their families. They are being held until they have a hearing to decide if they can stay in the country or be deported.”
Councilman Jerry Jones told ECM he learned about the facility on TV, not from the federal government. “Under state law, we have no jurisdiction over group homes no matter who runs them,” he says, adding, “I did inform the city manager as soon as I knew the facility was in the city.”
He declined to voice opinions on the child separation policies, stating that his policy is to focus on city issues and avoid partisan politics. But he added, “With that said, if the presence of this facility presents public safety concerns for either the residents or neighborhood then it becomes city business. When I reported what I knew, I asked the City Manager to alert law enforcement incase the public attention to the facility were to create a public safety situation.”