The Trump Regime Is Still Harming Immigrant Children

[Content Note: Nativism; child abuse; reference to Holocaust.]

When Donald Trump signed an executive order on immigration in June, purportedly putting an end to family separations at the border, I wrote: "The truth is that Donald Trump, with the aid of the nativist scum in his administration and the complicit media, created a problem with the explicit intent of provoking protest that he could abuse to make himself look heroic while actually making a historically significant white supremacist move that will be a lasting shame on this nation."

My concern was that the executive order was actually an expansion of the administration's nativist policies, designed to appear as though it was fixing the problem of separating families and incarcerating infants and young children; that the purpose was to evade accountability and give the public an excuse to stop paying attention, as the administration quietly escalated its war on immigrants.

That is exactly what has happened.

At the New Yorker, Sarah Stillman highlights the ongoing atrocity by telling the story of one child: Five-year-old Helen, who fled Honduras with her grandmother, Noehmi, because the family had been threatened by gang violence. The bluntly titled "The Five-Year-Old Who Was Detained at the Border and Persuaded to Sign Away Her Rights" is a must-read in its entirety, but I have included an excerpt below which details how Trump's vile nativist agenda has flourished in and because of public inattention. Emphases are mine.
As the summer progressed with no signs of Helen's return, Noehmi and Jeny [Helen's mother, who had already established herself in the U.S. when her mother and daughter fled to the States] contacted LUPE, a nonprofit community union based in the Rio Grande Valley, to ask for help winning Helen's release. Founded by the famed activists César Chávez and Dolores Huerta in 1989, LUPE fights deportations, provides social services, and organizes civil mobilizations on behalf of more than eight thousand low-income members across south Texas; Jeny, employed as an office cleaner, was one such member. Tania Chavez, a strategy leader for the organization, met with the family to hear their story.

Helen's case didn't fit the typical LUPE mold. "Historically, we have served longtime residents of the Rio Grande Valley," Chavez told me, "but since this new surge of refugees came about, we've been on the front lines of advocacy against family separation." Freeing Helen struck Chavez as a tangible and urgent goal. "Right away, we said, 'How do we help this little girl?'" she said. As Chavez saw it, the girl's seizure by the government showed that the family-separation crisis hadn't been resolved, as many Americans believed — it had simply evolved.

The first stage of the family-separation crisis unfolded largely out of public view, not long after Trump took office. By January, 2018, when I began collecting the stories of parents who had been separated from their children at the border, the government denied that these separations were happening without clear justifications, and insisted that they weren't encouraged by official policy. In the late spring, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, was still espousing this line, even as she ramped up "zero tolerance" prosecutions — criminally charging parents with "illegal entry," and seizing their kids in the process.

Stage two of the crisis unfolded in the national spotlight. As the number of separations soared past two thousand, and their wrenching details surfaced, hundreds of thousands of Americans protested in the streets. Laura Bush said that the practice broke her heart. The American Academy of Pediatrics denounced it as "abhorrent," noting that the approach could inflict long-term, irrevocable trauma on children. On June 20th, the President issued an executive order purporting to end the practice.

Now stage three has commenced — one in which separations are done quietly, LUPE's Tania Chavez asserts, and in which reunifications can be mysteriously stymied. According to recent Department of Justice numbers — released because of an ongoing A.C.L.U. lawsuit challenging family separations —a hundred and thirty-six children who fall within the lawsuit's scope are still in government custody. An uncounted number of separated children in shelters and foster care fall outside the lawsuit's current purview — including many like Helen, who arrived with a grandparent or other guardian, rather than with a parent. Many such children have been misclassified, in government paperwork, as "unaccompanied minors," due to a sloppy process that the Department of Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General recently critiqued. Chavez believes that, through misclassification, many kids have largely disappeared from public view, and from official statistics, with the federal government showing little urgency to hasten reunifications. (O.R.R. and U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to requests for comment.)

...Jess Morales Rocketto, of Families Belong Together, told me that Helen's reunion — the result of the first known public mobilization to free a specific kid from O.R.R. custody — holds lessons for a broader organizing effort. "One of the things Helen's story really showed us is that the Trump Administration never stopped separating children from their families," Morales Rocketto said. "In fact, they've doubled down, but it's even more insidious now, because they are doing it in the cover of night." She added, "We believe that there are more kids like Helen. We have learned we cannot take this Administration at their word."
This is a profound human rights crisis in which children are being systematically abused, and far too many people decided it no longer warranted their attention after a compulsive liar driven by malice put his name on a paper that he claimed solved the problem.

People wonder how it is that average German people could possibly claim they didn't know what was happening in the death camps in their country. Well, surely some of them were liars. And the rest simply weren't paying attention, because they didn't have to.

Talk about this. Amplify Helen's story. Make people uncomfortable. Make noise. RESIST.

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