As I plan a beautiful summer filled with fun with my family, my heart is heavy knowing that there are hundreds of immigrant children from Latin America who are locked up in modern day concentration camps–U.S. detention centers. These children are waking up on concrete floors, do not have access to toothbrushes, or soap, and most importantly, do not know when or if, they will ever see their families again. They are suffering both physical harm leading to deaths under our government’s watch and great psychological abuse that will create long-lasting trauma for them.
On June 21, 2019 the PBS News Hour reported on the horrible conditions in one of these detention centers in Clint, Texas where some of these immigrant Latino children from toddlers to teenagers were being held until yesterday when they were quickly relocated to another detention center. They lacked basic needs such as food, water, or proper sanitation. Willamette University law professor Warren Binford was interviewed by the News Hour after visiting the facility. She states:
Basically, what we saw are dirty children who are malnourished, who are being severely neglected. They are being kept in inhumane conditions. They are essentially being warehoused, as many as 300 children in a cell, with almost no adult supervision….We’re seeing a flu outbreak, and we’re also seeing a lice infestation. It is — we have children sleeping on the floor. It’s the worst conditions I have ever witnessed in several years of doing these inspections.
Under these horrific and inhumane conditions, it should come as no surprise that children are dying under our government’s care.
President Trump’s racialized immigration policy is killing immigrant Latino children. Six migrant children have died in U.S. custody between September 2018 to May 2019 for the first time in a decade. The recent origins of this situation began last April when more than 2600 undocumented children were separated from their parents at the U.S. border and locked up in detention centers that were not designed to house children under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. Child separations and detention is an example of the kind of tragic policy Bill Hong Hing argues brings shame to us as a nation and violates our constitutional rights. Hing states:
The age of hysteria over immigration in which we live leads to tragic policies that challenge us as a moral society. Policies that are unnecessarily harsh—that show a dehumanizing side of our character—are senseless. They bring shame to us as a civil society.” (2006: p. 7).
Rather than feeling shame for these appalling practices, US government lawyers have been justifying this abusive policy in the courts. Lawyers for Good Government, a nonprofit organization that formed after the election of Donald Trump, states:
The Trump administration argued in court this week that detained migrant children do not require basic hygiene products (like soap and toothbrushes) to be held in “safe and sanitary” conditions. Lawyers who recently interviewed detained children report that kids are living in “traumatic and dangerous” conditions – insufficient food and water, going weeks without bathing, kids as young as 7 years old being told to care for the babies and toddlers.
These conditions will cause more deaths in these modern-day concentration camps. This weekend alone four more children under age three at a detention center in Texas, were hospitalized with life threatening conditions.
While most of the children from the Clint, Texas facility have now been moved to another detention center since the story broke, the larger problem is the underlying policy that allows for children to continue to be locked up and separated from their families. Taking them to another detention center doesn’t solve this larger policy issue, or remove the suffering these policy create.
This Administration’s cruel policy is exactly the kind of policy the President likes. Why? Because it serves his ends and displays his bully power over the most powerless. President Trump targets the vulnerable in order to please his white base, and immigrant children from Latin America are among the most vulnerable. It is a politically calculated strategy designed to gain emotional support from an anti-immigrant, and often, racist base.
Many of the greatest problems facing the Latinos stem from the consequences of the racism we have experienced in this country because of the still dominant white racial frame. Caging and abusing innocent Latino toddlers and children could only happen after centuries of the dehumanization of Latinos, who are situated within a systematic racialization of people of color in the United States. As Feagin and Cobas argue, Latinos have been and continue to exist within a particular racial frame, as part of a white-imposed “hierarchy of racialized groups in this country” (2014: p. 48). Their analysis traces the subordination of Latinos through the white racial frame, which has resulted in discriminatory actions towards them by racist whites and in continued race-based exclusion at all levels of society. They state:
For more than a century and a half, Latino groups’ positioning on this society’s racial ladder has been a powerful determinant of their members’ racialized treatment, socioeconomic opportunities, and access to various types of social capital (2014: p. 15).
It is in this context that this appalling abuse of immigrant Latino children can take place without massive large scale civil unrest by Americans throughout the nation. While there have been and are some protests developing across the globe such as the upcoming one on July 12, 2019 by the Lights for Liberty, can we imagine the continued national uproar that would occur if these children were Swedish immigrants being locked up in cages, denied beds, adequate food, water, and sanitation resulting in some of them dying? If it were Swedish immigrant children being treated the way Latino immigrant children are then more people would be protesting in the streets. This abuse will go down in history among the worst atrocities committed by the U.S. government towards people of color along with the taking of Native American children from their families, the terror of Jim Crow, or the Japanese Internment.
Donald Trump’s framing of immigrants from Latin America immigrants as “criminals” and “rapists ” proved so successful to his election to the presidency in 2016, that we should be prepared for more of what political scientist Peter Andreas calls “performative art” as the 2020 election season intensifies. And the paint is going to continue to be the blood of immigrant children.
How can we continue to dehumanize children to the point where separating them from their families and holding them in these conditions becomes our public policy? Why aren’t the Democrats calling out how this Administration’s policies are killing children? Why aren’t we insisting Congress pass comprehensive immigration reform? Why is there not greater large scale civil unrest to this situation? Why aren’t we all calling out how President Trump’s policies are killing immigrant Latino children?
As we plan for our children’s summer of fun, we should all remember there are Latino immigrant children who are interned in modern day concentration camps–alone, scared, in metal cages, and without adequate nutrition, hygiene, or medical care. They are children, just like our children. Our government and our president are treating them WORSE than animals. There are animal cruelty laws that exist that prohibit people from leaving dogs unattended in inhumane conditions. These immigrant Latino children are receiving no such protections. The contrast between our healthy kids’ lives and the lives of these Latino immigrant children is truly heartbreaking.