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How to End Child Detention Camps at the Border

Recent events have shone a light on the horrific treatment of children and other migrants at the U.S. border; join us as we help end this nightmare now.

By on July 1, 2019

Take your protest directly to any detention facility near you, and let your voice be heard by the migrants who are languishing inside! The Lights for Liberty actions are scheduled for well over 100 different locations, and we want our Unitarian Universalist values to be heard loud and clear: migration is a human right, and migrants are not criminals! UUSC CEO and president Rev. Mary Katherine Morn will be attending the El Paso, Texas action. 


Recent events have underlined once again the basic inhumanity of current U.S. immigration policies. On June 23, the bodies of a 25-year-old father, Oscar Alberto Martinez, and his 24-month-old daughter Angie Valeria were found at the U.S.-Mexico border, after they had drowned while trying to swim across the Rio Grande. Reports indicate that both tried to cross safely at a port of entry, but they were turned back under the current U.S. practice of “metering” likely forcing them to attempt a perilous crossing by water to request asylum. 

Only two days before, a team of legal observers spoke to children at a Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas. The team found evidence of extreme abuse and neglect at the hands of U.S. authorities, with children as young as seven caring for toddlers half their age, being held in unsanitary cages “nearly all day long,” patrolled by armed guards, and denied basic hygiene. These interviews became public just days after the U.S. government argued in court that it had no legal obligation to provide toothbrushes and soap to migrant children in its custody. 

The Trump administration and some members of Congress have argued that these conditions are due to a lack of funds for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and other agencies that take custody of children at the U.S. border. In reality, the humanitarian crisis in U.S. custody is the direct and foreseeable result of current U.S. immigration policies, including family separation. 

Roughly one year ago, the administration’s family separation policy supposedly came to an end, following an executive order and subsequent court order banning the practice. The court’s decision, however, applied only to some parents traveling with children. It therefore did not prevent the U.S. government from continuing to separate children from other adult relatives and caregivers, including aunts, uncles, and older siblings. 

In recent weeks, we have seen fresh evidence that the administration is exploiting this loophole in its larger effort to deter people from seeking asylum. The conditions legal observers reported at the Clint Border Patrol station on June 21 confirm what we have long heard from our grassroots partners working at the border: U.S. authorities still regularly separate children from adult relatives, artificially recategorizing kids as “unaccompanied” and swelling the number of children funneled alone into CBP and ORR custody.

The New York Times reports large numbers of children at the Clint facility, including toddlers and infants, who have been taken from the adult relatives who were traveling with them when they first requested asylum. Likewise, the Associated Press spoke to a migrant father whose elementary-school-age daughter was held in this facility after being separated from her aunt. As a result of this separation, she was left alone in the appalling conditions witnessed in Clint. Recent document releases, meanwhile, show that even parent-child separations still take place on a regular basis, with the administration often invoking spurious “criminal” or “medical” justifications for the separations with no due process. 

The administration is also continuing to selectively prosecute asylum-seeking parents, leading to more enforced separations from their children. When President Trump issued the executive order last year ostensibly ending family separation, he pointedly refused to back down from his administration’s so-called “zero tolerance” policy of trying to maximally apply criminal penalties against anyone who makes an unauthorized border crossingeven if they are parents and asylum-seekers. Yet “zero tolerance” necessarily leads to family separation. 

Recent reporting by Tina Vasquez shows how the administration continues to single out some parents including pregnant mothersfor prosecution. Because children cannot be held in criminal custody with parents who are being prosecuted, this means that kids are separated from their family members. Perhaps most chillingly of all, if pregnant mothers are being held in U.S. Marshals’ custody as a result of a “zero tolerance” prosecution, this means that newborn infants are taken from their mothers as soon as they come into the world.

Criminal penalties against unauthorized border crossings have an ugly, racist history and are out of step with the rest of U.S. lawmost of which treats immigration as a civil, rather than criminal matter. Furthermore, the international refugee protocolwhich the United States has signedforbids governments from applying these penalties to people seeking asylum. The U.S. government is under no obligation to implement “zero tolerance,” therefore, and can halt it at any time. 

For these reasons, it is clear that the humanitarian crisis at the border is not a problem of a lack of funds. Indeed, the Trump administration is trying to exploit this crisis to ask for additional resources for the very agencies that are most responsible for creating the crisisincluding CBP and the U.S. Marshals, which hold migrants in custody when they are undergoing “zero tolerance” prosecutions. Increasing funding for these agencies will only lead to more family separations and prosecutions, and therefore more unaccompanied children trapped in horrific conditions. 

It is true that some forms of increased funding are necessary to respond to the significant increase of asylum-seeking families currently arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. Programs that can help rather than harm asylum-seekers include legal support, appropriate language and translation services, and community-based alternatives to detention. 

However, the root of the humanitarian crisis in U.S. custody can be addressed now, without a penny more in spendingsimply by keeping kids together with their adult relatives and caregivers and releasing families from detention. 

We hope that you will join us on July 12th for these calls to action. We recognize that this is a pivotal moment in time where the decades of organizing that people of color have been largely leading, is culminating in a movement. We acknowledge and honor their leadership as we join one of many actions taking place across the country. 

Our partner Monica Brasov-Curca from Activate Labs has urged us to take action in this moment, sharing that, We need allies to show up, since many of the people who are directly impacted face great risk to do so. We follow the leadership of those who are directly affected—immigrants, people who are detained, and those who are undocumented— and, recognizing the risks they face if they protest, we’re asking our members to step up in solidarity to support them. This is what allies are for.”

Photo Credit – UUSC


About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!

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