By Linda F. Hersey
November 16, 2020
USRESIST NEWS has made an effort to track down the whereabouts of the 666 immigrant children separated from their parents but no one is really sure. To the best of our knowledge some are in ICE detention centers, some are in foster homes, some with relatives but sadly it is difficult to really know even the names of the children and where they are.
A federal court-ordered search for deported families separated from their children at the U.S. border is severely hampered by the Trump administration’s refusal to fund location efforts and a failure to collect the most basic information on the families, such as a phone number.
The ACLU and other civil rights groups, meanwhile, complain that the federal government is continuing to separate families at the border and sending children to detention centers that operate with little outside oversight and under harsh conditions.
“A recent spike in apprehensions of migrant children crossing the U.S. southern border without a parent or guardian threatened to overwhelm the systems set up to care for them, and reinvigorated debate over the detention of minors,” the Council on Foreign Relations reported in a formal statement issued in October 2020. “Critics, including many in Congress, say the administration’s response is exacerbating a humanitarian crisis in Central America, breaking U.S. law, and violating international human rights norms,” the council concluded.
The Council on Foreign Relations reports that six children have died in the custody of immigration authorities since 2018. There is scant information on the conditions of their detainment or circumstances that led to their deaths.
The incoming Biden administration has pledged to establish a task force whose mission is to overturn many of Trump’s anti-immigration policies and reunite the families, though there has been no promise of asylum.
No budget under Trump to find deported parents
The Biden administration will have a large task in tracking down the parents of the 666 children orphaned under the so-called “zero tolerance” policy created by the Trump administration. The policy was implemented in July 2017 and stopped by court order in June 2018. According to the federal government, the children are with sponsors who are extended family members or caretakers assigned by the courts.
The Trump administration has not allocated a budget to cover finding and reuniting the families, with most of the location work done by volunteers, including attorneys, child advocates and religion-based organizations.
The Trump administration did little to document the background of the children forcibly removed from their parents – with some infants and toddlers taken from the arms of their mothers and fathers. The ACLU has argued the government has been unable to provide any documentation that would enable advocates to “allow meaningful searches” to identify and find the parents.
The government does not have phone numbers or know the location of the children’s homes. Families separated from their children often are concerned about reprisal, and have not come forward. When contacted some parents have elected to leave children with relatives and sponsors in the U.S. where they are safer.
Many of the children are young. More than 125 children were under the age of five, when they were taken from their families in 2018.
Some children were placed hundreds and thousands of miles away, in so-called detention centers, such as the Homestead Temporary Center for Unaccompanied Children, in Florida, which was run by a for-profit company, Caliburn International.
For-Profit Centers Detain Children
The displaced children are at the center of a class-action lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union against the federal government that names as defendants ICE, the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement and U.S. Immigration and Customs. The ACLU is seeking damages for the defendants, including coverage of mental health treatment because of the trauma the children and parents suffered from forced separations. The goal of the ACLU also is to end new separations and reunite the youngsters with their families, in the United States.
Overall, the majority of immigrant children in federal custody are 15 years or older. These children arrived in the U.S. without an adult sponsor or were separated from their families at the U.S. border.
The Trump administration is accused of directing children into for-profit centers like the one in Homestead, rather than placing them with sponsors or nonprofit agencies that provide foster care. There is a large network of migrant detention centers in the U.S., with little outside oversight and anecdotal reports by parents and children of unsafe and harsh conditions.
Comprehensive Health Services, a subsidiary of Caliburn, had a $30 million contract to run the Homestead shelter at a cost of $1 million per day. The property sits next to a Superfund site that stores toxic waste, including arsenic and lead. A report by the Miami Herald revealed that the children’s detention center was never tested to ensure that chemicals were not leaching into their environment.
The federal government emptied the center in 2019 after press reports and photos drew wide-scale criticism and questions about the safety and welfare of the youngsters housed there. Officials claimed that the children were released to sponsors but there has been no real outside verification or accounting of all the children who were taken from parents, detained and then released.
Negative publicity had included one report about a young girl who ran away from the facility and was discovered hiding and weeping inside a filling station. The center, often referred to as a children’s prison, became a disturbing symbol of the practices of the Trump administration of separating children from their parents immigrating from Central America.
Before the facility was shut down, it was estimated to be holding about a quarter of the immigrant children in federal custody, after they arrived in the U.S. alone or had been separated from their parents at the border. After a congressional delegation toured the facility in 2019, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland told reporters, “The Trump Administration’s actions at the southern border are grotesque and dehumanizing.”
American Civil Liberties Union has a mission to “realize the promise of the U.S. Constitution for all and expand the reach of its guarantees,
Women’s Refugee Commission works to hold the U.S. government accountable and to ensure refugee children and families are treated humanely and fairly.
Council on Foreign Relations is an independent nonpartisan think tank that helps people and organizations better understand foreign policy choices facing the U.S.