A Shameful Episode in U.S. History is Proving Even Worse Than We Could Have Imagined
The story of the US government separating parents and children at the border under Trump's "zero tolerance" policy for asylum seekers is rapidly becoming one of the most horrific and shameful episodes in the history of US immigration. The latest revelations have added yet another layer to the horrific story.
It began with the discovery that parents and children were being separated at the border - a gross violation of human rights by anyone's account. But it got worse. Next came news of the Department of Homeland Security building huge "tent cities" to house children as young as 5, and of children younger than 5 being kept in detention centers where caregivers were instructed not to hold or touch the children. And then what seemed the worst abuse of all: that the federal government had not even bothered to keep records of who the childrens' parents were, so that it is now relying on DNA tests simply to identify them.
But the latest revelation, which is unlikely to be the last outrage we hear, tops them all so far. Investigative journalists have uncovered an arrangement under which a US contractor, a defense security firm with no operations or experience involving child care, kept young children locked in a vacant warehouse in Phoenix, AZ for days or weeks at a time while moving them from one location to another.
The warehouse, which were not even licensed for human habitation (the building had darkened windows, no kitchen facility at all, and only a few bathrooms) housed children even while the contractor, MVM, scrambled to fill dozens of vacancies for care workers to look after them. All indications are that it is not the only such building this contractor, and possibly others, used to literally warehouse the young children.
This is no longer a story about bad policies; this is about the criminal violation of fundamental human rights of both parents and children. It has become a story of DHS officials embarking on a project that they knew would result in children being kept in cages and warehouses, separated from their parents for long periods of time and perhaps permanently, often without even qualified staff to care for them. And the motivation for this grotesque abuse was to give federal agents a blackmailing tool to coerce asylum seekers into surrendering their rights in order to get their children back.
Justice Department lawyers have argued in federal court that the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services need more time to reunite these children and their families - and there is no question that reuniting them must be the first priority. But this criminal scheme, in gross violation of U.S. law and international law, cannot be allowed to simply end without repercussions and without compensation for the victims.
These are the steps that MUST take place:
- Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, the Acting Director of ICE, Ronald Vitiello, and the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection (the Border Patrol), Kevin McAleenan, must all immediately resign or be removed from their positions.
- The Justice Department must appoint an independent counsel to conduct a criminal investigation into the entire operation by which children were separated from parents. Indictments should be brought against all those government officials responsible for the physical and emotional abuse of children, violations of due process rights of both children and parents, and blackmailing of parents, as well as those responsible for concealing these offenses. This would include not only the agency heads, but also the U.S. Attorney General, and the Vice President and President of the United States.
- The children must be evaluated and provided with any necessary medical care, and both children and parents must be provided with psychological counseling. All should be offered permanent residence status in the U.S.
We know that this is not the first time that the U.S. government has been morally and legally responsible for the outrage of stealing children from their parents. The system of slavery of African-American people and the Bureau of Indian Affairs schools that attempted to exterminate indigenous culture are only the worst of these.
One critical difference today is that there is a mass movement that is watching the story of the current atrocities unfold. And we will not be silenced or stopped as we shine the light on the criminals who caused or were complicit in it.