Brief #55—Civil Rights

Policy Summary
Nearly 13,000 children are currently being held across the US; more than 200 children in detention are deemed ineligible for reunification or release and children as young as 2 years old are appearing in court for their immigration hearings. In case that was not jarring enough, there have been reports of physical, psychological and sexual abuse accusations in the very facilities meant to house and protect these children.

The large number of migrant children being held in detention has increased the amount of young children appearing in court to determine whether they will be (1) deported (2) reunited with their parents or (3) granted asylum. As extensive background checks (on any adult claiming a detained child) ensue, many children are appearing in court by themselves. Unfortunately, some children have to show up to court multiple times before they can be reunited with a relative. Shelters are filling up, unable to house the growing number of detained children who were only supposed to be held for the short term.

But what of the children that remain ununited? They are moved to a government created tent city in Tornillo, Texas – a tiny, farming town near the Texas-Mexico border – where an anticipated 3,800 children will be housed. Under Obama, children were temporarily housed in tent camps during the height of the unaccompanied migrant minors crisis in 2014; this is not the predicament the Trump Administration is facing. Trump is making this a consistent practice and steadily increasing the number of children detained over the past year, despite decreased illegal border crossings. Through the consistent crackdowns on all types of immigration, the world has watched in horror as the US has displayed a visibly broken immigration system.


For many of the children deemed ineligible for reunification or release, it is due to complications with the family member or relative they would be released to. The Trump Administration had enforced extensive and lengthy measures to assure proper background checks, explicitly to weed out adults with criminal and/or abusive pasts from being reunited/claiming vulnerable detained children. Yet ironically, in facilities intended to keep such children safe and away from harm, caretakers are in fact inflicting the assault that is sure to stick with them for years beyond their release and immigration cases.

For example In the case of abuse accusations, 3 children were physically abused in a shelter in Arizona that led to the closure of that shelter. In a different Phoenix area shelter for immigrant children a youth care worker was convicted of sexually abusing 7 teenage boys; and at another facility accusations of a 14 year old girl being molested. Not only are these children traumatically separated from their families, but in a place that is supposed to keep them safe during limbo, they are violated, disrespected and dehumanized.

If the US continues to treat children like prisoners, their health – mental, physical and emotional – will be at stake. Children traumatically separated from their parents are more likely to have emotional problems throughout their lives and damaged memories. The question is when will these vulnerable children begin to fall severely ill or die due to these conditions, before the Trump Administration finds their humanity?

Resistance Resources

  • The ACLU: a non-profit with a longstanding commitment to preserving and protecting the individual rights and liberties the Constitution and US laws guarantee all its citizens. You can also donate monthly to counter Trump’s attacks on people’s rights. Recently, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging the separation of families at the border.
  • The National Immigration Law Center: an organization that exclusively dedicates itself to defending and furthering the rights of low income immigrants and strives to educate decision makers on the impacts and effects of their policies on this overlooked part of the population.
  • Kids in Need of Defense: an organization that promotes the protection of children as they migrate alone in search of safety and ensuring children’s rights are upheld and respected.
  • Families Belong Together: an organization that has dedicated its mission to ensuring families are together, especially reuniting children with their families. This organization contributes all its efforts to counter Trump’s separation of children from their families.

This Brief was authored by Kathryn Baron. For inquiries, suggestions or comments email

Photo by Charlein Gracia

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