70 Infants Ordered To Defend Themselves In Court

Young children, some of breastfeeding age, are being forced to appear in immigration court even though they have been forcefully separated from their parents.

Man carries small child while an older child follows behind.

The family separation policy championed by the President Donald Trump administration has made matters even worse for migrant children, as kids under 1, some of breastfeeding age, are forced to appear in court for their own deportation proceedings.

Out of the 1,500 “unaccompanied” children under the age of 3 who have been called to court since Oct.1, 2015, 70 were infants summoned by the Trump administration since Oct. 1 2017. But the full number of children being brought to court actually reaches the 2,900 mark when children up to the age of 5 are included.

Under Trump, however, most of the infants are classified as “unaccompanied” not because they crossed the border on their own, but because they were separated from their families.

Because of their young age, these children need frequent touching, nurturing, and bonding with a parent or relative. They also nap frequently and cannot speak, let alone defend themselves.

“For babies, the basics are really important. It’s the holding, the proper feeding, proper nurturing,” Shadi Houshyar, the director of Families USA’s childhood and child welfare initiative, told reporters.

Attorneys represent the children in three-fourths of cases, and more often than not, officials say, children under 1 who cross the border with a parent have their case reviewed along with their parents'. Still, many of these very young and dependent infants are not being allowed to go back to their parents' arms just yet.

“This is to some extent a ... crisis of the creation of the government,” Robert Carey, the former head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, said. “It’s a tragic and ironic turn of events.”

Unfortunately, the administration justifies separation as unavoidable under the law, all the while lamenting that its consequences are unfortunate. Still, the administration won’t back down, continuing to state that families won’t be separated if they simply don’t try to cross the border.

“There is a surefire way to avoid separation from your children. Present yourself legally ... or stay back at your home country, and go through the process others do,” Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar told reporters. “None of us want children separated from their parents. I want no children in our care and custody.”

In June, the Trump administration was ordered to reunite families separated under their watch within a month. A judge specifically called for immigration officials to focus on cases involving children younger than 5, giving them until July 10 to have them all reunified.

However, only half of those children, or 57 out of 103, were placed with their parents by July 12. The remaining cases faced several hurdles along the way, including parents with “serious criminal” histories or parents who had been imprisoned for a variety of crimes. One case involved a parent who could not be located, while another involved a parent with a “communicable disease.”

In at least 12 cases, the children could not be reunited because the parents had already been deported.

While many of the children brought over the border are completely unaware of why their parents decided to flee, activists explain that many adult immigrants decide to bring their infants out of sheer despair.

Safe Passage Project’s founder, Lenni Benson, helps migrant children and teens by providing them with legal support. She said that recently, she visited a family detention center where she talked to many families.

Benson explained that many of the adults who choose to put their infants through the risk of crossing the border do so because staying home is considered even more dangerous.

“There are people who do that because they are terrified for their child” in the home country, she said.

With asylum denials at 42 percent currently, a nearly 10-year high, few parents fleeing gang-related violence find compassion in the American immigration court system.

Paul Wickham Schmidt, a former immigration judge, said these families are facing terrible threats being thrown out of the country.

“Final orders of deportation have consequences,” he said. “For something that has a very serious result, this system has been described as death penalty cases in traffic court.”

By refusing to give these families a chance at having a better life in America, the Trump administration is also putting these children’s lives in jeopardy, as they are often forced to go back to a country where their future is uncertain at best.


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