After an eruption of national outrage over the Trump administration’s separatoin of thousands of children from their parents at the border, a federal court ordered those children reunited with their families. A new government report reveals that thousands of children were separated from their parents before the dates covered by the court order, and neither DHS nor HHS kept any records of who, when, or what happened to them. Today, separations still continue.
Meanwhile, as she returns from volunteer work at the border, Lynda McDonnell writes about the “army of solidarity” there, and the continuing work that is up to all of us.
“However, the federal inspectors found that separations have continued to occur: As of November, the report found, Health and Human Services had received at least 118 children who had been separated from their families since the court order….
“Ann Maxwell, the Health and Human Services Department’s assistant inspector general for evaluation and inspections, said the separations appeared to have been occurring for a full year before the court issued its order….
“The total number is unknown,” she said. “It is certainly more than 2,737, but how many more, precisely, is unknown.” Moreover, that number may never be known: Department officials, she said, had told her office that there were “no efforts underway to identify that. It would take away resources from children already in care.”
Some of the separated children and some unaccompanied minors are held in detention centers. After the closing of the notorious Tornillo tent city detention center last week, “plans are now underway in Florida to nearly double the capacity of a similar, unregulated detention center for migrant teenagers” from 1,350 to 2,350 in January.
Like the Tornillo detention center, the Florida center near Homestead Air Force Base is on federal land and is designated as “temporary,” so it does not have to meet state child care standards. At Tornillo, “temporary” meant months, during which time access to legal counsel was limited and “education” meant workbooks rather than actual teachers and classes.
“As of Jan. 13, about 10,500 migrant minors were held in more than 100 shelters across the country overseen by Health and Human Services, down from about 14,700 in December. Despite the recent decline, the number of children in federal custody remains substantially higher than a year ago, when about 7,550 were staying in shelters.”
Some children taken from their immigrant parents are U.S. citizens. One mother was separated from her 12-year-old daughter for 246 days, and finally reunited only after pro bono attorneys from SPLC took the case and national publicity followed.
“This case is emblematic of what happens in the shadows every day. If we found this one, Vilma, a week before her appeal is due, there’s 10 more that we didn’t find,” [Elizabeth Matherne, a senior lead attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative] said. “But that’s why we’re here on the ground. That’s why we’re screening people as quickly as we can.”
The pro bono lawyers offer a ray of hope in dark times. So do many other people, like Lynda McDonnell, who has been blogging about her time in El Paso. Returning home, she posted a blog entry that read in part:
“Of all the lessons I carry home from my experience at this border refuge, the combined power of faith and solidarity is the greatest. Day after day, volunteers with willing hands and open hearts feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give rest and comfort to the weary and fearful. Retired couples, college students and religious sisters well past retirement age stream to Casa Nazareth from across the country. New college grads dedicate themselves to serving poor immigrants for a year without pay.
“A vast team of El Paso residents are the frame that holds up the enterprise, though. Local churches bring many meals. Local volunteers run the daily operation as shift supervisors. People who see a bargain at the grocery store buy extra for the shelter. As a Minnesotan living far from the southern border, I feel enormous gratitude and humility for their commitment and generosity….
“And while Annunciation House relieves the suffering of immigrant families who cross the southern border, it cannot address the violence and poverty in their home countries that cause them to flee. Nor can it budge the political impasse that keeps Congress from undertaking humane, practical and serious immigration reform. That’s up to the rest of us.”