You gotta look to the Wayback Machine’s Internet Archive for this Politico article, at least until now, as it has been provided in more than its entirety here.
FAMILY SEPARATION AT THE US-MEXICO BORDER HAS BEEN A DISASTER LONG BEFORE TRUMP. It’s a NON-PARTISAN ISSUE that BOTH SIDES are to blame for, however, the DEMOCRATS CONSTANTLY FLIP-FLOP THEIR ANGLE DEPENDING ON WHO IS IN OFFICE.
Following the article are videos and transcripts of DEMOCRATS FULLY SUPPORTING FUNDING A BORDER BARRIER WALL AND TO CURAIL ***ILLEGAL*** IMMIGRATION. Both sides support LEGAL IMMIGRATION, however, in 2018, THE DEMOCRATS ARE AGAINST A BORDER WALL AND AGAINST ENFORCING IMMIGRATION LAWS.
As you’ll see below, the OBAMA ADMINISTRATION was right in the middle of putting “CHILDREN IN CAGES” as WE ALL NOW KNOW that the images that “shocked the world” were TAKEN DURING IN 2014 DURING THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION.
When an American Citizen breaks the law for BREAKING AND ENTERING, they GO TO JAIL AND THEY DO NOT BRING THEIR CHILDREN. Why should a NON-CITIZEN be TIED TO THEIR CHILDREN IF US CITIZENS ARE NOT?
Below is the article left-leaning Politico entitled “LIFE ENDED THERE Rare interviews with the children of America’s BORDER DISASTER” that was published in Obama’s SECOND term, certainly long enough for him to have “figured out the atrocities of the Republicans that came before him”, but that clearly didn’t happen in 4, 6, or even 8 years of Obamanation.
I met Mirabel in 2011, four years after she had left her home in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, a city reputed to be the murder capital of the world. She, her sisters and mother were terrorized by an alcoholic father who abused them and stole the earnings from her mother’s struggling grocery store to spend on liquor and women. The tipping point came when Mirabel, then 16, confronted her father after a drunken rampage, and he nearly killed her with a machete. When an uncle offered to pay for a smuggler to take Mirabel to the United States, her mother begged her not to go. “We all know the stories of women who get raped or die in the desert,” Mirabel told me. “But I couldn’t stay. I had no life there.” She told her mother she loved her, boarded a bus with her teenage cousin and headed north, hoping for a better education and a better life in “El Norte.”
But Mirabel’s safe passage across the U.S. border 15 days later was just the beginning of another ordeal that came with its own terrors. Immediately after entering the United States, she was apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol agents in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. “They were questioning me, and I was crying,” she recalled to me. “I said, ‘I can’t go back.’ I was 16, the only under-aged girl and little, but those officers put handcuffs on me just like I was a criminal.” After spending a few days in jail, she was taken into federal custody at a shelter in Los Fresnos, Texas, for unaccompanied minors. It was clean, Mirabel says, and had a nice enough living room, but she soon realized she couldn’t leave. “There was no life—life ended there,” she says. “The shelter was near the main road and I could see cars going by, and I wanted to be in that car.” It would be six months before an immigration judge in Texas granted her asylum petition and released her from federal custody to a foster family in Virginia.
Underage migrants like Mirabel, a vulnerable population that has been hidden from public scrutiny and absent from immigration debates for years, suddenly became breaking news this spring, when shocking pictures of kids in detention centers began circulating in the media. The number of children detained at the southwest border since October had reached 52,000, and was climbing rapidly. News reports since then have galvanized public attention, creating both sympathy and alarm: We have heard stories of Central American migrants as young as four or five packed into overcrowded holding cells and, on the other hand, witnessed anti-immigrant protesters banning these children from entering their communities by blocking buses or even passing resolutions. Facing what the president called an “urgent humanitarian crisis,” the Obama administration is scrambling to set up additional shelters, and the president has promised to “stem the tide” of further migration, this week asking Congress for emergency funding of $3.7 billion to aid the effort.
But spending more money on short-term fixes won’t solve a problem that has been building for years now—and one that ultimately must contend with a Kafkaesque legal system that offers these young detainees few viable options for relief. For my research on unaccompanied children in U.S. immigration custody, the Office of Refugee Resettlement—the Department of Health and Human Services agency that operates the custodial system—granted me rare access to 20 federal facilities and six foster-care facilities between 2009 and 2012. (As a condition for this access, I agreed not to reveal the names of the particular facilities I visited.) During that time, I also conducted in-depth interviews with 40 formerly detained young migrants. The story I heard from Mirabel (whose name, like those of the other interviewees in this article, has been changed for her protection) was typical of the experiences I encountered: children who had fled violence and poverty and, once in the United States, waged uphill and prolonged battles to stay here legally.
Thirty-eight of the 40 ended up winning legal relief, but only after several months of detention. And they are the lucky ones—those who managed to find excellent pro bono attorneys to represent them in immigration court. Here are the stories of those I met who were fortunate enough to get out—and what they saw while they were still inside.
Young Central American and Mexican migrants have been coming to the United States for decades in search of family, work and refuge. They do this knowing the journey north is perilous and that they could die en route: An analysis last year by the human rights group the Washington Office on Latin America found that there were at least 463 migrant deaths at the U.S. border in fiscal year 2012. And that’s only counting those who make it that far. During the journey, migrants often witness or experience violence from ruthless smugglers, corrupt border guards and criminal gangs, not to mention hunger, illness and exposure to the elements. NGOs in the United States, Central America and Mexico have reported that many young migrants are kidnapped by cartels that extort money from their families or traffic them for sex and labor. Of the 40 young people I interviewed, nine—seven boys and two girls—told me they were captured by the Zetas cartel in Mexico on their way to the United States. Rape is so common that many migrant girls get birth-control injections before they leave home.
But these young migrants see their journeys as necessary—a chance to reunite with undocumented parents “on the other side,” or as a hedge against domestic abuse, predatory police, forced gang conscription and drug traffickers. They leave countries where social inequality is high, livable wages are scarce and violence is a scourge in the home and the community. A study published this year by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, based on 404 interviews with migrants ages 12 to 17 who entered the United States in the fall of 2011 or later, concluded that 58 percent of them had been forcibly displaced by threats in their home countries. There have been reports that rumors about “permits” children to stay in the United States are in part behind the surge in child migrants, but none of the young people I interviewed told me they left home because they expected to win protective status.
Consider the case of Ernesto. He told me he fled horrific abuse in Honduras and migrated with two friends, hitching rides and traveling by foot through Guatemala and Mexico. They avoided cargo trains because people can fall off them and die. “I mean, you just don’t care about the odds or you wouldn’t do it,” Ernesto says of his journey. “How did I decide? It was the American Dream.” Ernesto worked his way north until he was seized by members of the Zetas cartel outside a Mexican border town. He was starved and beaten, while the Zetas extorted $4,000 from his family back home. He escaped, but three companions were killed when they balked at the cartel’s demands.
Carlita, a 13-year-old Salvadoran girl, fled gang violence. She told me she was also kidnapped by the Zetas in Mexico, used for sex and forced to be a drug mule for them, before escaping and ultimately making it to the border. Carlos, who grew up on a small Salvadoran coffee plantation, fled the country at age 15 after being abused by his father. He hitchhiked and walked his way to the U.S.-Mexico border and joined six migrants, with whom he crossed the Rio Grande River at night. A pregnant woman in the group was swept away and drowned. The others made it but were surrounded by Border Patrol agents within minutes.
Twenty-four of the youth I interviewed, including Ernesto and Carlita, spoke at length about their experiences in Customs and Border Protection custody once they made it across the border. They expressed gratitude for the life-saving interventions of the Border Patrol but described being subjected to coercive arrests, physical discomfort such as frigid temperatures and inadequate food, and both verbal and physical abuse. Their stories round out allegations of CBP’s systematic abuse of unaccompanied children made by civil and human rights groups in 2012 and 2014. (CBP insists that “mistreatment or misconduct is not tolerated” and that it “strives to protect unaccompanied children with special procedures and safeguards.”).
Unaccompanied children are allowed to remain in CBP custody for only 72 hours. Those from Mexico are deported quickly unless they express a fear of persecution or trafficking, but those from Central America or other countries are transferred to the special facilities for under-aged children. First, officials from the enforcement branches of the Department of Homeland Security—Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcements (ICE)—make the critical determination of whether each child is under 18 and without family in the United States to care for him or her. Only those designated as unaccompanied are eligible for transfer to special facilities operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). ICE officials gather data on each child’s family background, identify potential security risks such as a criminal background or gang affiliation, and make a preliminary recommendation for placement in the ORR-operated facilities.
These facilities, privately run and contracted by the ORR, are classified by three security levels—low, medium and high. They typically house large numbers of children—200—and are located in remote border areas in order to reduce costs and to facilitate the children’s eventual removal. ORR regulations call for children to be held “in a non-institutional home-like atmosphere of care.” But I saw firsthand that custody is not anything like home. All facilities are locked and organized on a penal model that requires controlled entry, exit and movement within the premises, as well as continuous supervision via surveillance cameras and line-of-sight checks. Children attend school inside the shelter, play sports within fenced areas and only leave the facilities for court appearances, special medical or psychiatric treatment and occasional community outings. They are subjected to rigid behavioral management programs that are both punitive and infantilizing.
For many of these children, the strict regulations within the facilities are a shock. Fernanda, a 22-year-old from Guatemala, recounted to me the litany of rules enforced in the minimum-security Texas facility where she stayed for six months:
We had to keep an arm’s length from another person and to maintain this distance without touching. We couldn’t play rough, talk loud, run around, touch the windows or send messages to other kids. We had about 15 minutes to pee and brush our teeth in the morning, and the same time to take a bath at night. There were always two workers in each house. They were watching us all the time. Lights went out at 9:30 p.m. If you sleep a certain way at night and then turn over, they write it down. If you wake up in the middle of the night, they write it down.
Carlos, the young Salvadoran who crossed the Rio Grande to enter the United States, was initially placed in a low-security shelter in Washington State, given a legal screening and deemed to be eligible for legal relief. But he described his transfer to a more secure facility as excessively confining:
When they told me the rules, I thought, “This is not a jail!” They gave me clothes, took me on trips, and we took turns cleaning the bathrooms and the kitchen. They explained the point levels. There was level 1, 2 and 3. You start at one level, and if you behave OK, you stay there. But if you say bad words, if you don’t go to your room when they tell you, if you touch a friend anywhere, they lower your level and they can kick you out.
One day I was sitting next to a guy and the staff came up to him and said, “OK, it’s time to go. You are leaving us.” I didn’t understand what was happening at first. Later I knew. At that time I was at level 3, the best level. I was doing well in school, I was learning English, I had 23 stars [for good behavior]. I got extra food—two hamburgers and ice cream. I was happy because I behaved well, and they said I could be released to a [foster] family. Then some guys in the house started to bother me. One day it was my turn to use the computer in class. I went to sit down, and a Guatemalan got there first and elbowed me hard. He broke my nose. I was bleeding, crying, and I ended up in the hospital. I went back to the shelter, and two days later I hit him. I was mad because they didn’t punish him for what he did. A few days after that, one of the staff woke me up at night and said I had to sign papers and be taken to a different place [secure facility]. What did I do? I punched him … but not hard. He wasn’t hurt. It wasn’t fair.
It was so different in the next place. I was locked up all the time. They had levels too, but you couldn’t go up a level in less than a week. The best level had TV, CD and radio, but the level I started on had nothing—no movies on Friday nights, no radio. The rooms for my level were the oldest and the dirtiest. It was bad, and I was there for four months. I couldn’t qualify for a foster care family because I got stepped up [to another level]. Then I turned 18, and they sent me to the adult detention center. I really suffered there.
Being locked up with no set endpoint creates feelings of helplessness among children who are already suffering from trauma. Ernesto remembers his feelings of disorientation: “You don’t know what’s going to happen. I asked, ‘Why do they send me here?’ We were so afraid. Were they going to take us somewhere and kill us?’” In 2012, the length of stay in ORR facilities for unaccompanied children averaged 60 to 75 days, ORR officials told me. And the longer the children stay, the more anxious they tend to feel and the more likely they are to act out. Some who qualify for protective status instead choose to self-deport in order to escape prolonged confinement.
Corina, a self-described model kid from Guatemala, spent 10 months in custody in a low-security shelter in Arizona. After six months, she began to misbehave. “I was never in trouble. But I was getting desperate and everything started to bother me,” she recalled to me. “I got into an argument and slapped a girl. For a week I had to stay in a room alone with a staff member.” Corina was fortunate in receiving a relatively modest punishment. But others are transferred to more restrictive facilities and held for longer periods and/or diagnosed with psychological disorders and managed with psychotropic medicine. In a 2009 report, the Women’s Refugee Commission estimated that half of those in detention are medicated for mood disorders, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Before children can be released, federal authorities must approve sponsors for them in the United States and certify that their background and behavior pose no risks to the population. But the decision, by ORR, whether to release children to families or sponsors in the United States is entirely separate from the decision, by an immigration judge, whether to grant them protective status. The children are required to be placed in removal proceedings after their apprehension, but they are not entitled to government-funded attorneys or child advocates. In detention, they struggle to find volunteer or pro bono attorneys—only 28 percent of children in detention manage to do so, according to a report by the Vera Institute of Justice. Ninety percent of children in detention are released to sponsors within the United States, but ORR does not track the outcome of their cases in immigration court—meaning that while these children find a place outside detention to stay temporarily, their long-term status in the United States is uncertain.
Carlos’ attorney, for instance, worked with the local ICE office to get him released, and helped him apply for a Special Immigrant Juvenile Visa based on the severe abuse he endured at home. He is now a legal permanent resident living and working in Washington State. But Ernesto, the young man from Honduras who had been seized by the Zetas en route to the United States, faced more complications. He was sent to a minimum-security shelter in Texas and hoped that it would offer refuge from the horrors of his journey. Instead, it was the beginning of a painful ordeal where he was sexually abused by a shelter worker who was sentenced on state charges of child abuse to a seven-year prison term. Ernesto spent 14 months in two different federal facilities before being granted protective status and released to a foster family in Virginia.
How did the U.S. government get into the business of detaining unaccompanied children? And where do we go from here?
This crisis didn’t need to happen, and in fact detention and deportation weren’t always the norm. In 1984, during the Salvadoran civil war, there was another large-scale migration of children to the United States as thousands of youth fled violence at home and headed north. Until that time, U.S. immigration authorities had routinely released detained children to parents or family already living in the United States, pending immigration court hearings.
But, citing the need to protect vulnerable children caught up in a humanitarian emergency, and using their broad powers to detain non-citizens, in 1984 authorities in the western division of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (the precursor to ICE, CBP and other agencies within the Department of Homeland Security) made automatic detention the new norm and release became the exception. These authorities continued to defend detention, even when legal aid organizations in Southern California sued them in 1985 for confining children under the punitive conditions usually reserved for violent offenders. Children as young as 14 who posed no security threat or flight risk were incarcerated with adult criminals and adjudicated youths, subjected to shackling and strip searches and deprived of legal, educational and social services.
After years of litigation, the Supreme Court in 1993 affirmed the government’s right to detain undocumented children in secure facilities for unspecified, and sometimes prolonged, periods of time pending release to approved sponsors and an appearance in immigration court. Faced with continuing legal challenges, the federal government agreed in 1997 to establish minimum standards for their humane treatment, to hold them in the least restrictive setting and to ensure their prompt release. In 2008, passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization bill added protections for unaccompanied children seeking asylum or juvenile visas and required ICE agents to notify ORR officials after the apprehension of a young migrant and to transfer custody of that child to ORR within 72 hours.
Today, the federal custodial system built up to house these migrants is an expanding leviathan that costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year and affects thousands of families. Approximately 6,775 unaccompanied children were detained annually in recent years. ORR reports that from 2009 to 2014, that figure tripled, and the number of detention facilities increased from 39 to 94. Children in custody are younger than ever before, with 24 percent under the age of 14 in 2013, up from 17 percent in 2012, according to ORR. The average age of Central American youth is 14, with a recent upswing in the number of young girls, who now make up 27 percent of the total. The government estimates that new arrivals will reach 60,000 in 2014 and balloon to 130,000 in 2015.
Based on site visits and 100 interviews with federal staff, I found that immigration custody is plagued by systemic problems. It takes an ad hoc approach that undermines consistency and fairness, lacks coordination in data collection, restricts information flows, enhances redundancy and concentrates power in the hands of senior government administrators whose decisions are difficult to review or appeal. Complaints about the abuse of children by facility staff have continued. Government officials have been slow to report abuse and have repeatedly failed to hold abusers accountable. More troubling is the lack of independent oversight to track the government’s compliance with its own detention standards—those who oversee operations are supervisors working for the ORR.
These problems will only worsen as unprecedented numbers of children flood an overloaded system and normal release procedures are suspended. Currently, apprehensions in Texas are averaging more than 300 per day, and studies published by the Women’s Refugee Commission in 2012 and the American Immigration Council in 2014, also based on interviews with children at the border or after repatriation to their home country, have predicted that surges of desperate migrants will be the new normal. Attorneys and advocates have also reported that, in a chaotic response to the current crisis, children are being released in as little as seven days without legal screening and or background checks on their sponsors.
Under the current system, apprehension at the border ensnares undocumented children in two parallel but separate federal systems with conflicting approaches to their treatment: removal proceedings in immigration courts and mandatory detention in custodial facilities. The first approach emphasizes humanitarian protection and recognizes basic child welfare principles. But it conflicts with a second, and better-funded, approach that prioritizes enforcement and views children as a security threat.
The latter approach seems to be the one President Obama is encouraging as well. As part of a larger media campaign underscoring the impossibility of winning legal status under U.S. immigration law, Obama is warning that if children “do make it to the border, they’ll get sent back.” His administration has also pledged to amend a 2008 law that placed restrictions on sending Central American children back to their home countries because, the administration argues, it hampers their efforts to manage the crisis. The $3.7 billion Obama has requested is much-needed, but it is weighted heavily toward increased detention capacity, border security and repatriation, including fast-tracked screenings and court hearings; only $64 million would go toward additional immigration judges, and only $15 million toward attorneys for young migrants facing removal. Most children will face government attorneys without legal counsel or a child advocate in backlogged immigration courtrooms, leaving them stuck.
While we work to alleviate the current crisis at the border, we should also ask ourselves if it makes sense to continue to prosecute and detain unsustainable numbers of unaccompanied minors in order to ensure their safety. This policy puts our country at odds with international norms in Europe and domestic practice. After all, who benefits if we spend millions of dollars to inform children of their rights, improve their health and teach them English only to put them in removal proceedings and cut them loose after their release? Why build insurmountable hurdles to legal status and deny them the opportunity for legal work? Why shouldn’t we protect young people who escape violence and work hard to realize the tantalizing promise of the American Dream?