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Thousands demand release of separated migrants in the U.S.

October 31, 2018
topic:Refugees and Asylum
tags:#zero tolerance, #migrant, #USA, #Donald Trump, #asylum, #immigration
by:Yair Oded
Earlier this year, the U.S. government had launched one of the current administration’s most draconian decrees: a ‘zero tolerance’ on migrant families entering the country illegally in order to request asylum.

As a result of the policy, thousands of families from Central America were forcibly separated, with parents jailed and prosecuted for illegal entry, and their children (some merely a few months old) placed in federal detention centres for designated for minors. Following both a domestic and international outcry, the ‘zero tolerance’ policy had been rescinded by the president, and a U.S. District judge ordered the government to reunite the separated families by July 26, 2018.

While the deadline for reunification has long passed, more than two hundred children still remain under federal custody. According to the recent statistics provided by the government, of the 245 kids, 175 have parents who were already deported from the United States, and while the government insists it does all in its power to locate the parents abroad, evidence suggests its efforts are often futile or insufficient. In one case, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reportedly put a four-year-old girl on a plane back to Guatemala before making contact with her father, who learned of her deportation only 30 minutes prior to her scheduled landing time. As of Monday, only 18 separated children are in the process of being reunited with their deported parents in their country of origin.

In order to apply pressure on the U.S. government to reunify the remaining children in detention with their parents and release them from detention in the meantime, a petition has been launched by Kids in Need of Defense on the website, titled “children do not belong in cages”. Thus far, over 480,000 people have signed the petition, and over 1,000 supporters have promoted it. The stated goal of 500k signatures appears to be feasible.

In the meantime, evidence abounds regarding the harsh reality of children who are placed under federal custody, often thousands of miles away from where their parents are detained. Upon being separated from their parents by border patrol agents, children are placed in “ice-boxes”, or detention centres where migrants who crossed illegally are processed and are notorious for being inhumanely cold. “In the ‘ice-box’ I was shivering”, says Jenri, a five-year-old boy from Honduras who was separated from his mother upon crossing, in a short documentary shot by The Atlantic about the separation and reunification of Jenri and his mother. “There was another boy shivering,” Jenri continues, “and I didn’t want him to catch a cold. [So I said] ‘Teacher, give me a blanket. I’m cold.” When the guard answered “Maybe later,” Jenri resorted to sharing his own blanket with the other boy.

After spending time at the ‘ice-box’, children are transferred to federally run shelters, which are located across the country. Conditions in such shelters vary. According to the New York Times, some facilities (such as the one in Yonkers, New York) feature “picnic tables, sports fields and even an outdoor pool.” Others, such as a converted dilapidated motel in Tucson, Texas, are unkempt, dirty, and resemble a typical detention facility. Regardless of their condition, all shelters share some characteristics in common, such as strict schedules, curfews, and cleaning chores. In all shelters, children are not allowed to run, hug, or make any physical contact with one another (even between siblings). Many children report abusive and humiliating treatment by guards. Several hours of schooling per day is mandatory in all shelters, but writing is not permitted outside of the classroom, and writing letters to parents is prohibited.

Another aspect of the reality of all children in such shelters is the relentless sense of uncertainty. Many children testify that one of the greatest difficulties of spending time at the detention facility is not knowing if and when they will be reunited with their parents. Often, this is a subject they are discouraged (or forbidden) from inquiring about.

What many fail to realise, however, is that even upon reunification children suffer a lasting trauma from the period of separation and that the greater amount of time they spent away from their parents, the harder it will be for them to recover from such trauma. In The Atlantic documentary, Jenri is seen lying on a bed next to his mother shortly after their reunification, crying hysterically and yelling, “I want to go to the jail. You don’t love me. You’re not my mom anymore.” Jenri is one out of thousands of children who are scarred by the prolonged separation from their parents and the harsh reality of the shelters. Many parents who were recently reunited with their children claim their kids suffer from severe anxiety and depression; some exhibit panic attacks and tantrums, others wet their bed… some refuse to talk to their parents, who they believe had willingly abandoned them.

What transpires in the coming weeks regarding the fight to reunite separated children with their parents as quickly as possible and prevent future separations will have a long-lasting impact on the lives of hundreds of children and their families, as well as on America’s rhetoric and policy on immigration for decades to come.

Whether you are in Nairobi, New York, London, or New Delhi, take a moment to acquaint yourself with the details of the case, and consider expressing your solidarity with this important cause by signing the petition.

We must remember that the safety and well-being of migrants concern us all, as we’re all part of the same global community. For better or for worse, our fates are inextricably linked.

Update: In the meantime the petition has reached more than 500,000 supporter and aims to achieve 1,000,000 signatures. 

Article written by:
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Yair Oded
Managing Editor, Author
Embed from Getty Images
Following a both a domestic and international outcry, the ‘zero tolerance’ policy had been rescinded by the president.
Embed from Getty Images
More than two hundred children still remain under federal custody apart from their parents.
Embed from Getty Images
What many fail to realise, however, is that even upon reunification children suffer a lasting trauma from the period of separation.
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