Children To Come Before Immigration Courts Alone

Credit, Customs and Border Protection

We are at a very dangerous moment in the United States. We live at a time when the executive, which is responsible for enforcing immigration policy wants to punish and deter those who are fleeing the violence. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said as much on the record. They chose to separate parents from children, some in diapers, as a hard line policy. As impossible as it is to conceive, babies in diapers are landing in front of immigration judges, and this is not a rare occurrence.

It was not just Sessions. On June 19 The Hill, among others published this:

“We expect the new policy will result in a deterrence effect,” said Steven Wagner, who is in charge of care centers for undocumented minors in federal care as the acting assistant secretary of the Administration for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

This was the goal. To serve as an example of the worst that the United. States can do. It posses a national security risk. We have taken on a role. One that the Donald Trump administration seeks to abandon. We are supposed to be leaders in human rights. The treaties we are violating, we were the driving force behind them.

We are sending a message to the world. We cannot call you on your human rights record. Ours is terrible. There is more. Revenge is a powerful human motivator. Taking children away from already desperate parents may create great animus towards the United States. This may very well lead to a future generation of people attacking American interests.

This is a challenge to our national myth. This is a myth that places us as the good guys. Yet, good guys do not take toddlers from the arms of mothers. Wendy Young told the Washington Post:

“This is the really sad and ironic and tragic part of this new policy of family separation,” Young said. “Obviously, from both a child welfare perspective and from the perspective of the U.S. immigration system in terms of its adjudication of cases when people arrive, it is much better to have a child arrive with a parent, because that’s a natural source of care and support for the child and that also means that the child’s case is attached to the parent’s case, and typically the parent is the one who has the information and the resources to inform the immigrant judge about what’s going on.”

“Now they’re making it a very formal policy to separate the child from the parent,” she said. “Because of that, the child is reclassified as unaccompanied.”

While family separation has stopped, we know that most families have not been reunited. Some parents have been deported, with their children remaining in the system. How do you recover your child when you do not know the language from another country? We also know some parents were offered their children back, in exchange for dropping the asylum claim.

This is but one of the many news reports on this coming from Texas:

A Honduran man who spoke to The Texas Tribune Saturday estimated that 20 to 25 men who have been separated from their children are being housed at the IAH Polk County Secure Adult Detention Center, a privately-operated U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility for men located 75 miles outside Houston. He said the majority of those detainees had received the same offer of reunification in exchange for voluntary deportation.

The 24-year-old detainee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity and requested the Tribune use the pseudonym Carlos because he feared retaliation, told the Tribune that he abandoned his asylum case and agreed to sign voluntary deportation paperwork Friday out of “desperation” to see his 6-year-old daughter, who was separated from him after the pair illegally crossed the border in late May. The man said two federal officials suggested he’d be reunited with his daughter at the airport if he agreed to sign the order, which could lead to him being repatriated to his violence-torn home country in less than two weeks.

This is a level of hell and cruelty that most of us cannot imagine. There is more, reunification is not happening, We know that some have already been deported without their children, who are now in the system

Things are getting complicated, since those separated minors some as young as toddlers, they loose access to those legal papers proving the basics of their life story. These youngsters also become wards of the state, because we removed them from that parent. So the welfare of the child enters the equation as those guardians will have to advocate for their well being. Returning them to a place where they may face death is not in the interest of the child. But there is another element to this. These minors need to face a judge, at times with volunteer counsel, at times alone. What we are asking of these children is to do the impossible. We are asking them to navigate a legal quagmire that is byzantine, and at times impossible to navigate even for adults. And these adults are lawyers familiar with the system

Again, according to the Washington Post:

“It has very serious consequences for the underlying case,” she said. “Because now you have a child — and this is being done with infants, even, babies — now you have a child with a much more challenging case detached from the parent. Very often they’re not being allowed to even communicate, and in some cases, the parent’s being deported and the child’s being left behind.”

When the child is meeting with an attorney or appearing before a judge, their ability to explain why they are there and the reasons they might be seeking refuge are limited. There’s a parent who could potentially answer those questions — but that parent was moved by the Department of Homeland Security to another facility. The child, detained by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, has probably had no contact with his or her parent.”

There are several problems with this. They are both legal and moral. As a nation we need to face this self created quagmire because it is a test of our national character, and who we are as a people. These issue range from just taking care of children, to asking the impossible from these children.

We need to be very clear with this. Children cannot possibly defend themselves in court. This is well known in legal circles, as well as with psychologists. It is a matter of brain development, among other things. We know from court systems around the world that children who are under 12 cannot represent themselves in court, especially in criminal proceedings. Immigration court is, for all intents and purposes, a criminal court. The youngest age of legal responsibility is In the UK where the age is ten. Elsewhere in the European Union these are some of the ages.

France — 13

Germany — 14

Italy — 14

Denmark — 15

Spain — 14

Then there is the age of criminal responsibility in the United States, where it is up to each individual state. Many states in the United States don’t have one. Think about that one. You could have a three-year-old facing the adult court for murder, lets just say because little Johny got daddy’s gun and shot his sister by accident. Most of us would recoil at that idea, but this is a reality of the legal system. In this case we have children, even babies, facing the adult court for immigration issues. Babies cannot talk, toddlers are not aware what is going on. Yet, they will have to go before a judge. This is something that speaks volumes as to how cruel and how much more trauma we are willing to inflict.

IT is telling that we as a country do not have national standards. It is also telling that we are willing to do this while speaking about morality. This is the heart of evil since it is separating children. This is, we are told, a deterrent. It is cruel.

How can a kid in diapers defend himself or herself? These children were put into this position by the federal government. Losing an immigration case can be a matter of life and death. Moreover, this is not even something that was done by the children, or the parents. Yes, I am aware of the argument that parents brought their children across. Let me be clear about this. Seeking asylum is legal under international and American law. We caused this crisis, in order to be cruel and deter people that we do not want. Why? They are perceived as a threat, an invading force, and spoken this way by our own President.

Most critically, it also ignores the interest of the children.

There is a bigger picture to all this.

It speaks to the divisions in the country, that are getting deeper. Why? We have been on this road to hell for more than a generation. It has gotten so bad that Democrats and Republicans have different value systems. They also have opposing views of what is moral. . This neurosis could explode at any moment. However, support for legal immigration has increased According to Pew:

The survey by Pew Research Center, conducted June 5–12 among 2,002 adults, finds that 38% say legal immigration into the United States should be kept at its present level, while 32% say it should be increased and 24% say it should be decreased

This matters, because in the much bigger picture, the nativist view that dominates this cruel policy is starting to give way. It is about economics, and population growth. People understand that there are certain jobs at the bottom of the economic ladder that are not done by native born Americans. People now this. Crops are not reaching the market, and dishes are done. The lower rungs of the service industry depends on this workforce. In the hypocrisy department, even the president knows this. His workforce at places like Mar-A-Lago are not American citizens, since a foreign work force is cheaper. The effort made to hire American workers is just enough to meet the legal requirements.

I suspect this is one of the reasons for the divisions in the Republican Party. Let’s be clear, they are in full control of policy making bodies. They also refuse to speak to Democrats while writing bills, but blame them for being obstructionists. Not that Democrats do not have their issues, but this speaks volumes about Republicans and their inability to govern. Or perhaps it is unwillingness.

They have proven incapable of solving this crisis, and have completely surrendered to a president who does not want it solved either.. One has to ask if this is due to severe internal divisions, or immigration is a good wedge issue to keep the political base riled out? What is true is that immigration is needed for strong economic reasons. We also have obligations under international law. Doing this will also lead to further isolation in the international stage. And the reputation we once had as a fair player, and a refuge for those who fled persecution is gone.

This is a test for our morality. Reinhold Niebuhr once said that “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” This is one of those moments that test values and the future.

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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