This could be an assumption on my part, but I feel like there’s a lot of confusion around what is actually happening at detention centers, where they come from, what they’re for, etc. I was unclear, so I assume a lot of people are unclear, but we all have the same basic opinion — it’s wrong to keep people (esp. children) in cages.
So, I wanted to make a quick breakdown(***) so we all know what happens to kids who come to the border alone, kids who come with their parents, and the differences between those situations under Obama and now under Trump.
A child at the border with their family, under Obama.
Most children cross the border with a family member, usually a parent. When they’re captured by ICE or head to an immigration center or port of entry, they’re either illegally crossing the border (“we just want to get into the US”) or they’re seeking asylum (“we’re running from a country where crime in our area is so rampant that either we or our kids are in immediate danger”).
The Obama administration actually established these family detention centers in order to keep children with their parents while their immigration requests were processed. (x) Back in 2013/2014, the US saw a spike in foreign nationals crossing the border illegally and the Obama administration was not prepared for the overflow. So, they set up these facilities that…weren’t great. Many of them violated a previous statute (the Flores agreement) concerning how and for how long migrant children could be detained.
A compromise of sorts was made called the Alternatives to Detention program, which technically still exists under Trump. Instead of holding a family, ICE would release the family under strict monitoring requirements, sometimes in the form of an ankle monitor on one of the parents (mom, most of the time). The family could stay together while their immigration case was processed but they wouldn’t be locked up in a detention facility. (The Trump administration is now using this program to deport instead of simply to track.) (x)
Asylum seekers tended to be treated better than everyone else. If you’re running from threat of violence or death, you and your family were more likely to be kept together and/or released under the Alternatives program. For everyone else, they were more likely to be held in a detention center and prosecuted for the crime of crossing the border illegally, but since that was a violation of the kids’ rights according to Flores, more of those families would be separated to get the kids out of those centers and into homes with another relative or foster situation while their parents’ cases progressed.
There’s also a general practice that kids under a certain age aren’t separated from their families. If you’re under five, they do everything they can to keep the family together until some kind of resolution is decided.
A child at the border alone, under Obama.
These kids are almost always seeking asylum because parents don’t send their minors on a dangerous journey hundreds or thousands of miles just for the heck of it or just because America is “the land of opportunity.” They send their children away from danger toward safety. These kids are almost always older children because parents don’t send their young kids on a dangerous journey without them.
Those children end up in family detention centers (the ones with the cages) — for no longer than three days — and then transferred to a shelter facility until they can be placed with a family member, sponsor, or foster home. A lot of these children have some kind of contact in the US, though sometimes that contact is also an undocumented immigrant. The Office of Refugee Resettlement takes care of unaccompanied minors and the ORR is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, not the Department of Homeland Security which is over ICE. Since ORR has no relation to ICE, they don’t care about the immigration status of the person who comes forward to claim any of those children. They just want to make sure the child is safe and ideally with someone they know. After the child is settled, they do a few checkins to make sure everything is okay, and then they’re on their own.
Summary – Obama
Republicans are not wrong when they say these detention centers operated under Obama, but they mischaracterize them by making it seem like it was the law or even common policy to separate families from their children. Every effort was made to keep families and children together, though the centers themselves were under heavy criticism at the time because it’s inhumane to keep people in cages.
A child at the border with their family, under Trump.
Children are stolen from their parents as a matter of routine, and there’s no other way to say it. They’re taken away while parents are told that the kids are just going to receive a bath. The parents don’t know that they may never see their child again and they don’t know where their child is going. Officially, “tender aged” children (kids under five or so) are supposed to be kept with their families, but we have infants under one year old being taken away from their parents even when that parent is seeking asylum. (x) There’s no compassion or humanity being employed here at all, as we saw last night when one of Trump’s former minions “womp-womped” about a little girl with Down’s Syndrome being taken away from her parents. (x)
Families can also request asylum to be kept together while their case is processed, but that hasn’t been working recently either. There’s a lawsuit right now (Ms. L v. ICE) where a 7 year old girl from the Congo was taken from her mother even though the mom requested asylum. (x) The Trump administration is using the Flores agreement and policies in place under the Obama administration to say that they are legally required to separate children from their parents, and that’s simply not true because the Obama administration made every effort to keep families together when possible. The Trump administration is making every effort to separate them.
Kids that are taken by immigration officials end up in a detention facility (the cages) before ORR places them in a shelter to ostensibly be passed along to a relative, sponsor, or foster. Under Obama, most of the kids being sent to ORR for placement were older kids over 13 because those kids were unaccompanied minors. Now, since the Trump administration is taking kids and babies from their parents, ORR has to house younger children they weren’t previously equipped to handle. Some of the facilities have had to be updated quickly to handle small children and babies.
Trump’s new zero tolerance policy is what really kicked this into high gear in May, not anything under the Obama administration. Zero tolerance means that we don’t care why you came, you’re going to be treated as a criminal for illegally crossing the border. (x) Never before did we prosecute first-time asylum seekers, but now, everybody is the same and then maybe we’ll figure out why you came. So, the kids are separated from their “criminal” parents – because they can’t be left in their care when the parent is being prosecuted by the federal government – and the parents are placed in lockup. The kids are placed in a different lockup. Up to 90% of parents are having their children taken away from them, and the rest of those are mothers who are going with their kids to the family detention facilities. The other parents are going to adult jails to wait on their cases to be processed, which can take four to six weeks. Meanwhile, they can’t get in touch with their kids, don’t know where their kids are, and may never see them again because some of these parents are being deported without their children. The children are now under the care of ORR and the process to release them back to their parents is so complicated and convoluted that it sometimes depends on the child to prove that their parent is their parent. We have five-year-olds — under stress — being asked their parents full names and dates of birth in order to be released back to those parents before mom & dad are deported. And a lot of them can’t do it, so now they’re “unaccompanied minors” dumped into the foster system. (x)
So why don’t we give the kids IDs? Well, the Department of Homeland Security gives them an alien ID number or wristband, and then turn them over to ORR (the Department of Health and Human Services) which sends them to temporary housing in places like NYC (this morning someone caught video of migrant children entering and leaving a foster care in East Harlem). Meanwhile, the parents are still the responsibility of Homeland Security and being sent to jails to await immigration trials in other cities. You have two different government departments keeping track of different family members in different cities — it’s a complete mess.
A child at the border alone, under Trump.
Nothing has really changed on the front end — they go to ORR – but now ICE is getting involved in the placement of the kids. Whereas before, ORR never cared about the immigration status of the adults coming to pick up the kids, this administration wants to extend the background checks to immigration status, which will obviously deter many undocumented adults from retrieving their nieces, nephews, grandkids, kids of friends, etc. who were sent here alone to escape the violence of their home country. They won’t step forward to collect the kids because they might be deported, which means there are more kids who have nowhere to go when they get here. (x)
Trump took a complicated situation and made it more stressful with a zero tolerance policy toward all immigrants crossing the border. The Obama administration had a system in place that had a lot of faults — detention centers being the biggest one, obviously — but they operated from a place of doing what’s best for the children, even when misguided.
See, the reason why Obama was deaf to the criticism brought against his centers was his view that having women and children (or children alone) being sent to these “jails” with the cages would be a deterrent for other families who considered sending mothers with kids (or kids alone) to the US. He said the journey was dangerous for them and he wanted to staunch the flow of immigrants. Basically look what awaits you when you get here — it’s not great, stay where you are because his reading of the facts at the time was that the journey was more dangerous than the situation they were running from. Obviously that’s the wrong tactic because, even if your kid ends up in a cage for a few days, it’s still better than the rape or murder you’re trying to protect them from or the arduous journey ahead of them. (x)
The Trump administration wants to keep everybody out. If you come here — I don’t care who you are or your situation — your kid will be stolen from you and then you’ll be deported and never see them again. Asylum doesn’t matter. Family doesn’t matter. Age of the child doesn’t matter. We are going to separate you, put your kid in a cage, and then send you back to where you came from without your child.
As I was writing this, Trump says he’s going to sign some executive order to stop separation of families at the border (x), but it’s not even needed. They’ve created a narrative where Obama forced the separation of families, Trump is simply following the law, the Democrats refuse to change that law, and now Trump will swoop in with his pen to keep those families together. Trump thought he could leverage forced separation against getting funding for his wall, but even the Republicans in Congress didn’t go for it, so he’s stuck with this massive problem that he created in order to look tough on immigration.
Sidenote about missing children.
A few weeks ago, different numbers went viral concerning the number of missing kids that had been lost by the government after crossing the border. The number has always been misleading, but this is a good time to remind you that there were two separate groups of kids initially – unaccompanied minors and kids separated from their families. The unaccompanied minors were taken in by ORR and then placed. And that’s it. We don’t always keep track of them after that because they’ve been picked up by a friend or family member or they were placed with the person they came to meet. You don’t actually want more government oversight here because it will lead to a lot of deportations under this administration. Once the kid is safe in a home, we don’t need to follow their every move. We don’t actually know where they are, but they’re not missing as characterized by all the viral posts.
The kids who are missing are the ones forcibly separated by ICE and then lost. When ICE separates a family, some of them go to ORR and then placed and then we longer keep track of them. Some of them are legitimately lost and end up in terrible situations like sex trafficking. That is the part that needs more oversight – where are the kids going when they leave ICE.
There is a third – smaller – group of kids that are placed by ORR that we can’t find and that’s because the people they were placed with don’t always want any further contact with the government. When ORR calls to check on the whereabouts of a kid, they just call. If no one answers, then the kid isn’t found. That missed call could be the result of changing a phone number, moving, or undocumented immigrants who don’t want to talk to the government any more than necessary. So, we don’t know where those kids are exactly, but they were most likely released to the care of a family member initially and they’re probably still fine. (Probably isn’t the ideal situation, but I’m of the notion that it’s still better than having ORR work with ICE to keep track of every child indefinitely.) (x)
Unfortunately, this administration has now classified all of the kids the same way, so it looks like the kids lost by the Department of Homeland Security are the same as the kids who are just no longer being tracked by the Department of Health and Human Services. They’re not the same though. Some were lost by the system and some were released by the system and left alone to live their lives in the care of whoever they were released to.
(***) This ended up not being a quick breakdown. My bad.)