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Trump’s Family Separation Policy is leaving children in inhumane detention facilities, in violation of the law

Washington, D.C. NBC News reports that, as a result of Trump’s new family separation policy, hundreds of children are being held at border stations in unsuitable conditions, especially for children, and beyond the time period allowed under the law.

In May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he and Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen implemented an unprecedented “zero tolerance” policy, vowing to prosecute all immigrants crossing the border in between ports of entry, resulting in children being taken from their parents. The purpose is clear to deter families seeking protection from violence or improved opportunities for their family.

In just the first two weeks under Trump’s new family separation policy 658 children have been taken from parents. At this rate, thousands of children will be separated and placed in government custody.

When children are taken from parents by DHS at the border, the law requires that the child be transferred to the care and custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) within 72 hours. Currently, HHS has 11,200 beds to care for such children, well below the number needed to handle existing cases as well as the vast and immediate increase in the number of children in need of care and custody as a result of Trump’s new family separation policy.

As the number of children being taken from their parents increases, the places to care for them are becoming overwhelmed. As a result, according to the expose by NBC News, children are left in unsafe conditions at border stations longer than necessary and in violation of the law.

Nearly 300 of the 550 children currently in custody at U.S border stations had spent more than 72 hours there, the time limit for immigrants of any age to be held in the government’s temporary facilities. Almost half of those 300 children are younger than 12, according to the document, meaning they are classified by the Department of Homeland Security as “tender age children.”

Furthermore, NBC News reports that government officials are touring military bases next week to consider using the facilities to handle the volume of separated children created by Trump’s new policy.

This raises the specter of abuse and mistreatment. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes described the horror of seeing children locked up in “dog kennels” at a Border Patrol Station in Texas. In a tweet linking to the Hayes interview Merkley said “My visit to the McAllen processing center was a harrowing experience. Children were in cages. People were distraught. Kids were ripped from their parents’ arms. It’s unconscionable that we are treating them this way.”

A recent report by the ACLU, based upon a review of FOIAed DHS documents, describes horrific conditions and abuse at border detention facilities between 2009 and 2014:

Firsthand accounts and internal government reports documented horrific detention conditions: children held in freezing rooms with no blankets, food, or clean water; forced to sleep on concrete floors or share overcrowded cells with adult strangers; denied necessary medical care; bullied into signing self-deportation paperwork; and subjected to physical and sexual assault while in CBP custody.

Earlier this month the Board of Directors of Tonantzin Society of Topeka, Kansas sent out a statement highly critical of the mistreatment of immigrants it reads: The Board of the Tonantzin Society is highly alarmed and appalled at the continued mistreatment of Mexican, Central American and other immigrants and refugees by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and new, harsher mandates by the Department of Justice (DOJ). Every day we read fact based reports of infants and children being separated from their families once crossing the brutal border infrastructure into the United States. As a result, children are highly traumatized, women become victims of sexual abuse or suicide and men helpless to piece their families back together. Their only “crime” is seeking a better way of life and in many instances, escaping highly dangerous countries where their lives are often at risk. Since the creation of ICE in 2003 what we perceive as United States human rights abuses have grown increasingly bold and blatant. Where is the justice and humanity the United States boldly chides other nations in lacking?

Multi-layered violence towards Mexicans has a corrosive history going back to the 18th and 19th century with settler colonialists stealing land from Mexicans, (even after Mexicans were given US citizenship) in places like California and Texas, leaving those Mexicans hanging from trees. History reveals other examples of Mexicans as scapegoats leading to forced repatriations during the Depression Era. Racial profiling during the Depression witnessed Mexican Americans forced onto buses and trains to be sent “back to Mexico.” Their true place of birth? California. The 1940’s Bracero Program created profound abuses to Mexican farm workers. Low pay, horrific working conditions with no benefits plague many a farm worker to this day.

As a community organization bound to a mission statement which includes social justice, we understand for centuries family separation has also been used as a tool to dehumanize and traumatize Native Americans and blacks during slavery. Systematically people of color were and are deemed “unworthy” to hold equal rights as European Americans. While Mexicans and Central Americans are indigenous to the continent they are treated far worse than immigrants whose ancestors settled in America through the route of Ellis Island.

When analyzing the inability for Congress to pass fair and humane immigration reform, we do not subscribe to labeling one or the other political parties as exclusively culpable. Both parties are guilty and share responsibility for the callous and brutal methods used to detain and house immigrants and refugees. While the number of children, woman and men being detained and deported grows, so does a myriad of abuses against detainees by detention center employees. The profits gained through the misery inflicted at detention centers should be abhorrent to any human. We must also acknowledge United States geopolitics in Mexico and Central America. The flight by the poorest in Latin America comes about through United States destabilization of their governments, interference in democratic elections, failed drug wars and military interventions.

While mainstream media, the public and politicos play the age-old blame game, we approach this issue with our shared humanity in mind. The depravity in treating people as animals, chattel, anything other than human beings with innate rights and protections appears to be growing. Our organization will continue to partner with Kansas groups and across the United States, moving forward in ways challenging the broken status quo system.

Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch, a new project of America’s Voice said “The Trump Administration has implemented a morally bankrupt and unprecedented family separation policy with very little planning, and now we’re seeing the results: children being ripped from parents arms only to be further traumatized in unsuitable and unsafe border detention facilities. A border detention facility is no place for a child. It is precisely for this reason that the law requires that within 72 hours unaccompanied children encountered by border officials be moved from cold cages in Border Patrol stations to more appropriate facilities operated by HHS. It’s common sense and basic decency. This entire crisis is the result of Trump’s new family separation policy, and it will only get worse – with more and more children held in holding cells beyond the legal limit and exposed to abuse. This can and should end immediately. The Trump Administration can end this cruelty today by simply rescinding the policy.”

Also last week, a U.S. District Judge in San Diego, Judge Dana M. Sabraw, allowed a suit from the ACLU to proceed against the Trump administration’s family separation policy. In the ruling, Judge Sabraw denounced the policy and implications, stating that the policy, “arbitrarily tears at the sacred bond between parent and child” and noting:

Such conduct, if true... is brutal, offensive, and fails to comport with traditional notions of fair play and decency, The facts alleged are sufficient to show the government conduct at issue ‘shocks the conscience’ and violates Plaintiffs’ constitutional right to family integrity.

DHS Watch is a project of America’s Voice. For more information, visit DHSWatch.org