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 founder and editor of MANO as well as the host of the LATINISH podcast. A Chicagoan living in Las Vegas, he's also the senior editor of Latino Rebels, part of Futuro Media, as well as a former managing editor of Gozamos, an art-activism site based in his home town. He was a columnist at RedEye, a Tribune-owned daily geared toward millennials. His work has been mentioned by The New Yorker, Good Morning America, TIME, the Washington Post, and other outlets, and his writing was featured in 'Ricanstruction, 'a comic book anthology whose proceeds went toward recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. He studied history at the University of Illinois-Chicago where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States.

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