Kids in the Haul

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The New York Times reports on how the Trump administration is putting the screws on the more than 13,000 migrant kids in its custody:

To deal with the surging shelter populations, which have hovered near 90 percent of capacity since May, a mass reshuffling is underway and shows no signs of slowing. Hundreds of children are being shipped from shelters to West Texas each week, totaling more than 1,600 so far.

The camp in Tornillo operates like a small, pop-up city, about 35 miles southeast of El Paso on the Mexico border, complete with portable toilets. Air-conditioned tents that vary in size are used for housing, recreation and medical care. Originally opened in June for 30 days with a capacity of 400, it expanded in September to be able to house 3,800, and is now expected to remain open at least through the end of the year.

Whereas most kids are held in shelters or foster homes where they’re schooled and have access to legal representation, the kids at Tornillo receive no schooling at all and only limited access to lawyers. And kids who turn 18 are quickly shackled (sometimes on their birthdays) and transferred to the Department of Homeland Security–I.C.E., to be exact–to be treated like a common criminal. The average number of days a child remains in custody has shot up from 34 in 2015 to nearly 60 today, which the Department of Health and Human Services argues is needed to ensure kids aren’t placed in the care of traffickers, as happened to a few kids in 2014.

“That argument withers under scrutiny,” the Times editorial board wrote a couple weeks ago.

Yes, the threat of trafficking is real, and protections are needed to guard against it. But it’s difficult to see how incarcerating teenagers for the crime of turning 18 protects them more than, say, releasing them to a willing sponsor who has cleared a basic but thorough background check. Stricter requirements have succeeded in scaring off prospective sponsors, many of whom are undocumented themselves or who have undocumented relatives. But their fear does not necessarily speak to their fitness as guardians.

The Trump administration’s aim is clear: hurting brown foreigners–man, woman, or child. The goal of H.H.S. may be to provide for the physical, emotional and mental welfare of the children under its care (which, under Trump, is debatable), but the larger operation is still being managed by Trump’s Department of Homeland Security, whose primary objective is to keep brown foreigners out of the United States–part of the policy adopted by Trump, his followers, and now a main portion of the Republican Party, to safeguard White Supremacy in the United States by preserving the country’s Anglo majority.

A child migrant turning 18 allows the administration to quit the charade of caring for kids and stick to the business at hand. As Attorney General Jeff Sessions admitted in June, by hurting brown migrants and those seeking asylum, the Trump administration hopes to deter Latin Americans of any age from showing up on our doorstep.

Who honestly believes that were the migrant kids white–say, Canadians–there would be over 13,000 of them in U.S. custody? Who believes that, once detained kids from Vancouver turned 18, they’d be handed over to the Department of Homeland Security to sit in a county jail? It’s tough even to imagine.

Yet it’s happening to kids from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala every day.


Featured image: U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Flickr

Hector is the editor and publisher of Enclave. A Chicago writer now floating on the edge of Las Vegas, he is also the former deputy editor for Latino Rebels, as well as the former managing editor for Gozamos, a Latino art-activism site based in his home town. He has contributed to RedEye, a Chicago daily geared toward millennials, and La Respuesta, a New York-based site for the Puerto Rican Diaspora, plus a number of publications, including The Huffington Post. He studied history (for some reason) at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where his focus was on ethnic relations in the United States.

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