U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Monday the death of a 16-year-old boy from Guatemala who had just days earlier crossed the southern border illegally as a so-designated “unaccompanied minor.” While only minimal details were released, the young man was likely headed to relatives waiting for him somewhere in the United States.
With the deaths of two migrant children from Guatemala last month and another tear-gassing of crowds that included children just across the Southern U.S. border on New Year’s Day, nobody should argue against a thorough investigation of the circumstances that continue to place minors in highly dangerous situations. The fact that these “circumstances” are under the control of U.S. government agents justifies — even compels — us to make sure that protocols for managing an extraordinary immigration crisis do not endanger the lives of anyone, especially young children.
With the second reported fatality of a young child in the custody of US Customs and Border Protection this month, many are raising serious questions about CBP practices, but so far officials have provided answers that are spectacularly unsatisfying.
Onerous new procedures have created a bottleneck, keeping more than 15,000 unaccompanied minors in facilities that are at full capacity.
If it wasn’t bad enough that tens of thousands migrant children are being held in temporary detention, the system designed to move them into permanent homes is breaking down.
Last weekend a small, but powerful group of activists gathered at a Tornillo, Texas youth detention center to protest conditions for migrant teenagers waiting for reunification with families or official sponsors.
Joining the demonstration and facility site visit were Democratic members of Congress, including Representatives Beto O’Rourke (Texas) and Judy Chu (CA), Representative elect, Veronica Escobar (Texas) and Senators Jeff Merkley (OR), Tina Smith (MN) and Mazie Hirono (HI).
These are among the most stalwart advocates calling attention to the unending traumatization of migrant children at the U.S. Southern border.
Earlier this week, Ron Colburn, president of the Border Patrol Foundation, told the nodding hosts on “Fox & Friends” that pepper spray, one of the riot-control agents that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said they used over the weekend to deter migrants (including parents with young children in tow) was essentially benign. “It’s natural. You could actually put it on your nachos and eat it,” Colburn said.
Despite being jailed and many being separated from their children, 42 women interviewed said they would do it again.
Under the cover of multiple self-inflicted crises, President Trump has reportedly proposed reviving the widely reviled policy of separating children from parents as a way of discouraging immigration from Central America.
A unique moral failing has happened under his watch. He must go.
There is no justifying the unrelenting trauma the U.S. government is purposely inflicting on children and parents separated at the southern border as an explicit deterrent to immigration from Central America. It is an unconscionable use of overt cruelty as governmental policy. And many Americans, even ardent Trump supporters I have spoken with, say they find this policy abhorrent.
But compounding the trauma of separation are the conditions for children during the weeks and months of uncertainty that follow it. Children are being subjected to emotional shock treatment at detention centers that the government has set up to warehouse them as they wait for reunification.
The bandwagon of child care and health professionals who have characterized the federal government’s forced separation of migrant children from their parents as “child abuse by government” is overflowing. It would indeed be difficult to concoct a more traumatizing experience for already vulnerable infants and children then what these kids have gone through.
The fact is that, as a pediatrician, if I saw a child being subject to the terror these kids are experiencing I would be ethically and legally obliged to contact the authorities. But wait: The authorities are the perpetrators!