The Trump administration rolled back the brutal “zero-tolerance” policy after mounting pressure from across the board. However, those migrant children who were ripped apart from their parents continue to live in migrant camps under dire circumstances – and the situation is just getting worse.
In a recent development, hundreds of migrant children have been moved to a tent city in Tornillo, Texas. These children were either living with foster parents or were in shelters across the country from New York to Kansas and parts of Texas.
According to The New York Times, in recent weeks, the children were reportedly loaded in buses along with backpacks and a handful of snacks and were transported to a completely new location – apparently, their new home.
The United States currently holds around 13,000 migrant children. They were living with foster parents or were in migrant shelters where they went to school and also checked in with the legal representatives that were assigned to them.
However, in the tent city the situation is a lot more different. It is built in west Texas and on a patch of desert where these children sleep in bunk bunds with another 20 children. The children are separated by gender and their access to legal representatives is also very limited.
Under the brutal child separation policy, more than 2,300 families were separated on the U.S.-Mexico. Since then, heartbreaking stories of the ordeal immigrant families had to endure poured in.
At first, the Trump administration failed to meet the deadline the court imposed to reunite immigrant children under the age of 5. Then, the few families that were actually reunited had to go through a nightmarish process riddled with a number of physical and emotional barriers.
Now, as the population of these migrant children hovered near 90 percent of capacity, the Trump administration is struggling to deal with the situation.
To control it, the administration is reshuffling the children who are already in an unstable mental state. The tent, that has portable bathroom and air-conditioned tents that vary in size, initially opened up in June for a month.
However, in September it opened up again and now it is expected to stay open till the end of 2018.
The reshuffle of migrant children is troubling because it is unregulated unlike other shelters these children were previously living in. This means they are no safety checks at the facility and they also don’t follow any guideline that are issued by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Employees at the shelter explained that the transfer of children is usually done late night because it is then less likely for the children to try to escape. The anonymous workers also said that the children are not given a warning ahead of their transfer.
They further added the children panicked when they were told about the new location and many asked them if they would be taken care over there. They also said it was an emotional experience for them as well because of the fear of how the children, who were under their care, might be treated now.
These children remain under federal custody until they are matched with their family or relatives.
“Obviously we have concerns about kids falling through the cracks, not getting sufficient attention if they need attention, not getting the emotional or mental health care that they need,” said Leah Chavla, a lawyer with the Women’s Refugee Commission, an advocacy group.
“This cannot be the right solution,” Chavla said. “We need to focus on making sure that kids can get placed with sponsors and get out of custody.”
In April, the Department of Health and Human Services revealed the agency had “lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children it placed with sponsors in the United States.”
It later turned out the Department of Health and Human Services’ refugee office did not conduct a proper follow-up on migrant children who had been placed with U.S. sponsors, many of whom, according to Allison E. Herre, a lawyer with Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio, exploit children for labor instead of sending them to school.
Between October 2017-April 2018, at least 26,001 unaccompanied minors were apprehended on the U.S.-Mexico border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
There is a complex process that comes into play once border patrol agents apprehend unaccompanied children. They are taken to the Department of Homeland Security and then to the Department of Health and Human Services’ refugee office, which places them into shelters until they find a sponsor.
The ordeal of those separated is heartbreaking; however, it is not just the same anymore for the ones who are reunited with their parents.
The New York Times recently published anecdotes from migrant parents who were finally reunited with their kids. Some of the migrant children were unable to recognize their parents, the publication reported.
It must be heart-wrenching for parents, who have waited for months to finally have their kids back in their arms, to be met by cries of rejection.
“He didn’t recognize me,” one parent, Mirce Alba Lopez, told the Times of her 3-year-old son. “My joy turned temporarily to sadness.”
In some cases, the parents said the children believed that the other kids they were detained with were their siblings. Perhaps they just wanted to find a sense of belonging and familiarity in a foreign place.
According to psychological experts, indefinite separation can take a toll on the mental health of these children, especially toddlers.
“People have been very focused on technical pieces of this process, and the egregiousness of children in cages. But they’re not thinking about most basic fundamental trauma we’re inflicting on people,” said San Francisco-based Youth Law Center's executive director Jennifer Rodriguez.
Firstly, there is no definite time period as to when the migrant children who are in U.S. custody will be reunited with their families. Secondly, even if that happens, the entire experience of being separated will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
Banner / Thumbnail : Reuters, Mike Blake