CNN reports this week on a particularly evil example of U.S. policy toward separating mothers and children enmeshed in our immigration enforcement laws. Natalia Cornelio, an attorney working with the Texas Civil Rights Project, told of how during an interview with a Honduran immigrant who had crossed the border without navigating the near-impossible maze of U.S. immigration law, the woman "sobbed as she told...how federal authorities took her daughter while she breastfed the child in a detention center, where she was awaiting prosecution for entering the country illegally. When the woman resisted, she was handcuffed."
While not always in such a dramatically horrific manner, in the past month alone immigration law enforcement, according to a federal public defender speaking to CNN, has separated 500 children from their parents in Texas. Some, the public defender reports, have no idea where their children are. There are also reports of children being taken away to be bathed and then never returned to their parents.
And what does life become like for those children taken from their parents? This week some journalistic accounts of what those immigration kid jails are like have hit, though involving kids older than breast-feeding age.
Jacob Sobaroff of MSNBC in a tweetstorm notes the weird banana republic detail of "[o]ne of the first things you notice when you walk into the shelter—no joke—a mural of Trump with the quote 'sometimes losing a battle you find a new way to win the war.' Presidential murals everywhere. But that one is 1st."
The "shelter" in Brownsville, Texas, he visited, called Casa Padre, is overcrowded with 1,500 boys ages 10-17, five to rooms meant for four. Nary an MS-13 member to be seen in this "shelter" that used to be a Wal-Mart where the kids spend 22 hours a day locked inside. The facility Sobaroff got invited to visit (good he was invited because uninvited press are supposed to have cops called on them) is run by licensed child care pros from an operation called Southwest Key, though the proposed new tent city prisons for these poor kids won't be.
The Washington Post also got inside Casa Padre, and reports that:
Yellow lines on the ground mark the area boys must line up. In the cafeteria, a mural tells kids to speak quietly, ask before getting up and not share food. Next to their beds are lists of each boy's belongings: two T-shirts, three pairs of socks, three pairs of underwear, one polo, a pair of jeans. Lights go out at 9 p.m. and come back on at 6 a.m.
There are so many children that they attend school in two shifts: one in the morning, the other in the afternoon. They sit in small, numbered classrooms with yellow walls covered in posters of planets. On Wednesday, through tiny windows they waved to the reporters outside.
"You might want to smile," Southwest Key executive Alexia Rodriguez told the journalists at one point. "The kids feel a little like animals in a cage, being looked at."
The number of children in federal custody spiked by more than 20 percent between April and May of this year. Casa Padre doubled its population over that period, from 542 to 1006, according to a monthly census by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the agency that licenses such shelters.
The CNN story paints a picture of the federal courtroom where these cases are decided as men plead for mercy to be able to attend to their 8-year-old daughters before being sentenced to a couple of weeks in jail.
Cornelio told CNN that, naturally, when interviewing immigrant women about these child-snatchings they "would start crying and would need to take a couple of minutes before being able to continue talking about it." For their part, the Justice Department in Texas' Southern District "could not comment on the number of parents who had been separated from their children or how families were separated because of the zero-tolerance policy."
The application of this policy is not business-as-usual:
It has long been a misdemeanor federal offense to be caught illegally entering the country, punishable by up to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine. But previous U.S. administrations generally didn't refer everyone caught for prosecution...
Supporters of the new program credited it with reducing the number of crossings and repeat offenders, while critics said it overwhelmed the courts and U.S. attorneys' offices with low-level crimes that made it difficult to use resources to go after serious and dangerous crime, like drug smuggling and cartels.
Shikha Dalmia explains everything wrong with the general zero-tolerance family-disrupting immigration policy.
Photo Credit: Customs and Border Patrol