By Leni Villagomez Reeves
Why is the Trump administration continuing to separate non-White children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border?
1) It is profitable.
2) It destroys culture and families.
3) The newly publicized motive: It is cruel. It was always cruel, but now the cruelty is a feature because racist White people derive pleasure from the abuse of other people. This is not so new, after all.
The Act for the Government and Protection of Indians (note the use of the term protection) was passed by the California legislature in 1850. It allowed White people to continue to capture Indian people and use them as slave labor. Trafficking in Native American slave labor was a legal business, and young women and children were particularly in demand, so White slavers raided villages, taking young women and children for sale and killing everyone else.
Throughout the United States, Indian schools were established to remove children from their parents forcibly and ensure that the children would lose their cultures and families. The children were not taught; they spent their days working and being drilled and punished (The Problem of Indian Administration, 1928).
For people who were stolen from Africa and their descendants, forced family separation was always a major and horrible part of their lives as enslaved people. Enslaved children were a lucrative business.
“Only 48% of interviewees in the Slave Narrative Collection describe doing any form of work before the age of 7” (from an essay in the U.K. National Archives titled “What Was It Like to Be a Child Slave in America in the Nineteenth Century?”). Read this again: Only about half of all children below the age of second grade were made to work. Current legal and social structures reflect the devaluation as people of enslaved parents and children; current major institutions are built on profits from their labor.
The Trump administration’s immoral family separation policy is accompanied by a cruel policy of holding child migrants in detention centers under conditions tantamount to torture. And of using the children as hostages to torment the parents and coerce them into giving up their rights.
On Aug. 23, 2018, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the American Immigration Council filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) alleging the “pervasive, and illegal, practice of coercing separated mothers and fathers into signing documents they may not have understood.”
According to the complaint, “the trauma of separation and detention creates an environment that is by its very nature coercive and makes it extremely difficult for parents to participate in legal proceedings affecting their rights.” It also describes the use of “physical and verbal threats, the denial of food and water, the use of solitary confinement, the use of starvation, restrictions on feminine-hygiene products, and the use of pre-filled forms.”
Homestead is the nation’s largest “influx shelter.” Because it is classified as a temporary shelter, the federal government maintains that state child welfare rules do not apply there.
Homestead is owned by a company called Caliburn, which is owned by a private equity firm, DC Capital Partners. DC Capital Partners reported $17 million of profits for Caliburn in October 2018 for the prior nine months on $630 million in revenue. Then, Homestead had a $220 million, one-year DHS contract. Now it has renewed its contract for far more in a no-bid process. Obviously, this is a profitable business.
But it costs more to separate migrant children from their parents. It costs an estimated $775 per person per night to house the children when they are separated and $298 per person per night to keep the children with their parents in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers. Although huge profits are being made, profit is only part of the point.
Crystal Minton of Marianna, Fla., became famous when she declared her disappointment as a Trump supporter, “He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.” She and other Trump supporters are made happy by the abuse of refugee children and their parents because these are the “people he needs to be hurting.”
Two weeks after Trump was inaugurated as President on Jan. 20, 2017, the administration reviewed the idea of separating immigrant children from their mothers as a way to deter asylum seekers. In June 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them [to the United States].”
Presumably, these women fleeing violence, gang recruitment and sexual trafficking in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras should leave their children behind to take their chances. (The Trump administration has made a recent decision to discontinue asylum protections for victims of gang and domestic violence.) Refugees are presenting themselves at the border hoping to claim asylum, which they are legally entitled to do.
The Trump administration claims the family separation policy is directed at those migrants who illegally cross the U.S. border, but it has decided to charge everyone crossing the border with illegal entry. The administration also charges asylum seekers in criminal court rather than waiting to see if they qualify for asylum. Immigrant children as young as three years old have been ordered into court as their own legal representatives for their deportation proceedings.
Children need to be cared for by their parents to be safe and healthy, to grow and develop. Forced separation disrupts the parent-child relationship and puts children at increased risk for both physical and mental illness. This is not a single generation process.
Damaged people who have not been raised by families struggle to learn how to construct families and raise children. It is not OK to sit this one out. Claims of ignorance will not be accepted as valid in the future. We know, and we have to act.
We need to work to end the family separation practices and institute a humane immigration and asylum policy. We need to lose the foreign policy cognitive disconnect that allows the United States to feel it has the right to control all countries in the hemisphere, while taking no responsibility for the disasters that our intervention and policies have produced.
We need to remain respectfully aware that this is not the first time this has happened, but we are here today, and we must fight today.
Leni Villagomez Reeves is a local physician and activist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.