America, Are You OK With Caging Kids and Their Families?
COMMENTARY

August 23, 2019 by Mary Sanchez

How cruel is America willing to be to other people’s children?

We’re about to find out.

Are you OK with allowing your tax dollars to fund detention centers where Central American children will be locked up indefinitely, simply because the Trump administration claims that it can’t manage the numbers of migrants at the border any other way?

This latest pitch would do away with a decades-old consent decree, known as the Flores agreement, that generally limits holding migrant children to 20 days. After that, children must be sent on to either guardians or less restrictive settings.

A “loophole” is how Trump officials consistently term Flores. The implication is that it’s an unnecessary irritant, a blockage from another era that must be dismantled.

They even claim that it’s the cause for recent surges in Central American migration, as if the poverty, violence and corruption of Honduras and Guatemala have been horribly miscast.

The administration’s other pitch is that if it weren’t for the bothersome Flores protections, they’d have everything under control. On August 23, new rules, largely upending Flores, were issued into the Federal Register. They go into effect 60 days from that point, unless blocked by a court.

Mind you, these are some of the same immigration officials that a federal court had to order in mid-August to provide soap, toothbrushes and a mat to sleep on for children being held at a border station.

Government lawyers asserted that such items weren’t necessary. They quibbled over the meaning of “safe and sanitary.”

Here’s how the judges saw it, in their common sense finding: “Assuring that children eat enough edible food, drink clean water, are housed in hygienic facilities with sanitary bathrooms, have soap and toothpaste, and are not sleep-deprived are without doubt essential to the children’s safety,” wrote Judge Marsha S. Berzon for a three-judge panel of United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

That ruling was but a skirmish in this long-running feud between efforts to adhere to Flores, and government officials who try to circumvent it. The Obama administration also had to be reprimanded by the courts, so it’s unwise to see this as a partisan issue.

It’s about human rights, dignity and ensuring migrant’s care while in U.S. custody, aligns with the medical community’s commitment to do no harm. As any parent can attest, children are incredibly resilient, and also susceptible to life-changing trauma if treated poorly.

Science is learning more about post-traumatic stress disorder almost daily, how it affects mental and physical health. Children, locked up and deprived of basic hygiene, let alone schooling or adequate medical care, surely qualify.

The Flores consent decree stems from a 1985 class action lawsuit after government officials locked migrant children and adults into overcrowded rooms at an old hotel in Pasadena, Calif., surrounded by razor wire. Dehumanizing body cavity searches were part of the process.

Flores is named for Jenny Lisette Flores, who at 15 years of age fled her native El Salvador, hopeful that she could reunite with relatives in the U.S. Instead, she was sent to the hotel.

It took years for the case to be settled, but eventually the government did. It’s been an on-going struggle ever since, according to recently published interviews with the lawyers who brought the original suit.

The hope of the Trump administration is to box critics into a corner.

The separation of the migrant children from their parents that has caused such public outrage is related. The administration took the children away from their parents supposedly because Flores wouldn’t allow them to hold the families indefinitely.

And Trump dearly wants to hold these immigrants long-term in jail-like settings.

Trump disdains that fact that the families can meet the initial criteria to make a claim for asylum and then be released until those claims can be heard through immigration proceedings. He rails against the so-called “catch and release,” maligning it into a slur, as opposed to the completely legal process that it is.

The Trump approach also opens an avenue to for-profit detention centers to warehouse families long-term.

And the American public is expected to believe that his revolving door of “acting” immigration directors will be able to keep the best interests of the children in mind, without the third-party oversight of Flores.

Out of sight, out of the public’s mind. That’s the goal. And it must be fought, not only by advocates and the courts, but by average citizens who care about other people’s children too.

Readers can reach Mary Sanchez at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @msanchezcolumn.


(c) 2019, MARY SANCHEZ DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC

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