“When my children are sitting in their high school history classes one day, what will be the excuse given to them about what we’re doing now? How will they be able to make peace with the trauma and pain our leadership has intentionally inflicted on potentially thousands of men, women, and children seeking refuge in this country?
What is being done to refugee children and families by our federal government is the real national emergency.”
In total agreement. This is an urgent matter of gross human rights violations inflicted by U.S. government policy to the literal tune of thousands of children getting separated from their families, far too many still in our detention centers and with precious little transparency or accountability. What could be more urgent?
Column: America, the kidnapper: ‘Likely thousands’ of children still separated
Rex Huppke Chicago Tribune February 12, 2019
Rex Huppke Chicago Tribune February 12, 2019
America is a kidnapper.
It became one in late 2017 and early 2018, when the government began quietly separating families — asylum seekers and migrants who entered the country illegally — at our southern border, a test run for a soon-to-be-open policy of taking children from their parents.
Our country became a kidnapper in plain sight last April, when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy at the border, breaking up families at such a pace that children pulled from the arms of their mothers and fathers were dispersed to refugee sites across the country with no consistent tracking process in place.
And America remains a kidnapper today, because children are still being separated at the border for specious reasons and, according to a federal report and recent testimony before Congress, there may be thousands of additional children we didn’t know were separated, children the government says it now lacks the resources to find.
Ann Maxwell, assistant inspector general at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, testified last week before a U.S. House subcommittee on oversight and investigations: “In conclusion, the total number of children separated from a parent or guardian by U.S. immigration authorities and transferred to HHS for care is not known.”
She said it is “likely thousands more.”
Consider that for a moment: The total number of children, possibly thousands, that our government willfully took from their parents as part of a cruel and clumsy experiment in deterrence is not known.
This story began, in large part, with a little girl who was taken from her mother and shipped halfway across the country to a facility here in Chicago. It has been almost a year since I first wrote about that little girl, and the fact that we’re still talking about children our government unfairly ripped from their parents is unconscionable.
That girl and her mother were separated for months, even though the mother, identified only as Ms. L., had followed all of the laws laid out for asylum seekers. The pair were reunited here fairly quickly after their story was revealed and a lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
That lawsuit grew into a class action and a judge issued a June 26 court order halting the Trump administration’s family separation policy and giving the government 30 days to find the more than 2,600 children being held across the country under the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and reunite them with their parents.
When the government missed that deadline, U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw said: “What was lost in the process was the family. The parents didn’t know where the children were, and the children didn’t know where the parents were. And the government didn’t know either.”
It was a pathetic mess, the result of a draconian policy implemented with no advance planning. The various agencies responsible for these children didn’t have a consistent means of tracking them or their parents. It was slapdash and intentionally brutal.
It took months for most of those children to be reunited with their families. But in January, we learned of an entirely different set of children lost in the chaos.
In the months before an official zero-tolerance policy was announced and in the months that following its announcement, there were children separated from their parents at the border, taken into government custody and then released to the care of a relative in the United States.
According to an HHS Office of Inspector General report issued in January, “officials estimate that thousands of separated children entered ORR care and were released prior to the June 26, 2018, court order. Because the tracking systems in use at that time were informal and designed for operational purposes rather than retrospective reporting, ORR was unable to provide a more precise estimate or specific information about these children’s placements (for example, whether the children were released to sponsors who were relatives, sponsors who were nonrelatives, foster care, etc.).”
The court order in the Ms. L. case involves children who were in government custody when the order was issued. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union assumed, logically, that all children separated from their families due to the zero-tolerance policy were part of the lawsuit’s class. That makes sense, given that Ms. L. and her daughter — the family at the center of the case — were reunited well before the court order was filed.
But the government doesn’t see it that way, arguing that the newly identified children are not part of the Ms. L. class and claiming it would be too much work to find them all anyway.
To summarize, our government tore thousands of children away from their parents causing untold trauma, then dragged its feet mightily in reuniting those children with their families. Now we learn there may be thousands of additional children who were placed with U.S. relatives (not their parents), and the government has no plan to reconnect those children with their parents or even consult the parents to see if the current guardianship is acceptable.
These kids weren’t put up for adoption or handed over willingly to U.S. officials in the hope they would get placed with a distant relative. They were taken from their parents — period.
Now government officials are claiming they lack the resources to find these kids. They even have the gall to suggest that uprooting the children from their current guardianship would be too traumatic, after showing no such concern for the children’s well-being when they yanked them away from their parents in the first place.
“The point is, we need to have the information so we can find out from the parent or child what they want to do,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and a lead attorney on the Ms. L. case. “I think the government doesn’t want to do that or they’ve candidly admitted they don’t think it’s worth the resources. It’s always worth the resources when it’s kids’ lives at stake.”
We are a powerful and wealthy nation. We certainly have the ability and the resources to account for every child we forcibly orphaned. We should, if we still possess even a sliver of compassion, fully clean up this inhumane mess and recognize the stain it will leave on our history.
Until we do that, we’re nothing but kidnappers.