As the plight of child asylum seekers separated from their parents fades from the news, hundreds of children remain incarcerated and separated from their families, writes Barry Sheppard from San Francisco.
Of these, about 400 are children of parents who have been deported. There is little chance these families can be reunited soon, and probably never will be.
Others are children of parents arbitrarily deemed unfit. A typical example is Juan Hernandez, who came with his three-year-old daughter Maria seeking asylum. The government kept her in detention and wouldn’t let her be reunited with her father because of his two alcohol-related offences that occurred more than 12 years ago.
Hernandez was then tricked into signing papers he couldn’t read agreeing to be deported after officials told him doing so would allow him to be reunited with Maria. He was deported and his daughter remains in detention.
Hernandez first came across the border without papers from El Salvador in 1999 after he was repeatedly attacked by gangs. He was 17 at the time, and found work picking lettuce for agribusiness. In 2001, he obtained temporary protected status, granted to Salvadorans at the time because of devastation caused by an earthquake.
He was convicted in 2005 of carrying an open container with an alcoholic beverage in his car. He got another conviction for driving while intoxicated in 2006.
When Hernandez failed to renew his temporary status in 2006, he was deported.
Feeling unsafe in El Salvador, Hernandez moved his family to Chiapas, Mexico. There is an increasingly violent situation in that state, and last March he made the decision to seek asylum with his daughter.
He hoped that if he was successful, he could bring his entire family. Instead, Hernandez was swept up by Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy barring almost all asylum seekers entry. He was jailed and separated from Maria.
The government claims that past criminal offences, as well as unspecified “red flags”, is sufficient to declare a parent unfit. Immigrant rights groups say that in most instances the crimes are minor, and have no bearing on the parents’ ability to care for their child. Few of the cases would cause a parent who was a US citizen to be ruled unfit.
Mass incarceration of immigrant children has also ballooned. The New York Times reports that in May 2017, there were 2400 children in immigration detention. As of this month, that number has risen more than five-fold to 12,800 and climbing.
The NYT said: “The huge increases, which have placed the federal shelter system near capacity, are due not to an influx of children entering the country, but a reduction in the number being released to live with families and other sponsors.”
On top of “zero tolerance”, another new policy designed to bar immigrants was adopted in June. The authorities announced that potential sponsors who could take in unaccompanied immigrant children, and all adult members of their household, would have to submit fingerprints and that data would be shared with immigration authorities.
Traditionally, most sponsors have been undocumented themselves, or someone in their home is. So many are obviously wary of submitting their fingerprints. Even those who do wait months to be vetted. The result is a sharp reduction in the number of immigrant children being released into homes.
The Trump administration’s answer isn’t to get rid of the whole anti-immigrant project and act humanely. It is to build more detention facilities.
One of these is an outdoor tent concentration camp called “tent city” in Tornillo, Texas. It is scheduled to triple in size to help accommodate an expected rise in the number of immigrant children destined to be detained.
The Obama administration initiated this dreadful program, but Trump has put it on steroids. Under Obama, most detainees were released before 20 days — the lawful limit by court order. Trump thumbs his nose at such restrictions and is demanding Congress remove them.
Detaining children for months in these detention centers has produced severe depression, violence and other unhealthy mental issues. Younger children are especially susceptible to be trauma caused by such a situation. Experts predict long lasting impairments and personality disorders.
The immigrants Trump is specifically attacking are those who cross the border with Mexico. Many of these come originally from Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, travelling through Mexico. These are not people who look like the “Norwegians” Trump says he’d like to see as immigrants.
Trump’s target includes all Latinos. Undocumented Latinos are part and parcel of Latino communities and families. Striking out against the undocumented terrorises these families and communities.
Trump also says he doesn’t want people from what he calls “shithole countries” like Haiti and Sub-Saharan Africa. He also doesn’t much like people from North Africa either — largely Arab Muslims.
Hurricanes and racism
Just as Hurricane Florence hit the East Coast, causing much destruction, the administration took US$10 million from the budget of the Federal Emergency Management Authority, which is supposed to help aid victims of the hurricane. The administration instead gave the funds to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, one of the spearheads of the anti-immigrant drive.
Florence resulted in a deluge of rain in many areas, causing severe flooding. Many have been forced to evacuate, homes have been destroyed, people have died. As in other cases, the hardest hit are the poorest section of the working class, including Blacks and Latinos.
The undocumented have to undergo more hardship. Many express concern they will encounter ICE if they seek help. A mother in the coastal city of Willmington, North Carolina, which was isolated by flood waters, told NBC News she feared being separated from her children by ICE if they evacuated to a shelter.
TV shots of vehicles plowing through flood waters show they included ICE vehicles.
In this racist society, the overt white nationalism of Trump has to be opposed. It will have to be overcome if ever the whole working class can unite to fight racism and all the forms of exploitation and oppression in this capitalist society.