We Stole All The Babies
Imagine being a little kid who's been taken away from your parents by men in uniform, and thrown into complete chaos. You're surrounded by strangers who may not even speak the only language you know, kept in a freezing cage where the lights are on all day and night and nobody seems to care that you're crying all the time, then later taken to a converted Walmart crammed with other kids, where you get to play outside on a dirt field once a day. Eventually, you're sent to "foster care or whatever," people you don't know, but who seem nicer even if they don't understand your language or your reflexive rocking in bed at night. If you're really lucky, you might even end up with a distant relative who lives in this strange country, though you may not have met them previously. (Unless of course, your relatives were arrested and deported when they came to rescue you from baby jail.) It's been three years since then and depending on how old you were when you were taken, you might still remember Mama's face. Or maybe the only family you can think of is your foster parent. There's little chance your real parents will ever be found.
Now imagine that 545 times and you'll have a very partial sense of the crime Americans committed so Donald Trump could brag he was finally cracking down on people who committed the misdemeanor offense of crossing the border without authorization. That's what a minority of American voters elected him to do.
In a court filing yesterday, ACLU lawyers said that after years of searching, they were still unable to find the parents of 545 of the kids who'd been taken in America's effort to "deter" asylum seekers and other immigrants by trying to be more monstrous than the countries they were fleeing. Why were ACLU lawyers (and attorneys from other nonprofits) tasked with finding the parents, and not the Department of Homeland Security, which took the kids away? Or the Justice Department, which ordered it? Or Health and Human Services, whose Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) had custody of the kids?
Simple: The government refused to do it because it was too much work, so if the parents were going to be found, that was left to the attorneys for the kids and their parents.
These are mostly children whose abductions by government agents fell outside the official "zero tolerance" program formally announced in April 2018 and "ended" in June 2018 after public outrage drowned out official claims that there was no family separation program at all. But long after the ACLU successfully sued to demand those children be returned to their parents, we learned that an unknown number of kids had also been taken away from their parents in a 2017 "pilot program" to try out the idea of separating families to deter undocumented immigration.
As NBC explains,
Unlike the 2,800 families separated under zero tolerance in 2018, most of whom remained in custody when the policy was ended by executive order, many of the more than 1,000 parents separated from their children under the pilot program had already been deported before a federal judge in California ordered that they be found.
So now we know. Suppose that's better than the "thousands" first thought to be unaccounted for. For 3,300 of the children you can stop after imagining the first pile of severe emotional traumas, leaving off the permanent loss of their families. Boy, most of those kids were real lucky duckies!
Lee Gelernt, the deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, told NBC News:
It is critical to find out as much as possible about who was responsible for this horrific practice while not losing sight of the fact that hundreds of families have still not been found and remain separated. [...] There is so much more work to be done to find these families.
People ask when we will find all of these families, and sadly, I can't give an answer. I just don't know. [...] But we will not stop looking until we have found every one of the families, no matter how long it takes. The tragic reality is that hundreds of parents were deported to Central America without their children, who remain here with foster families or distant relatives.
Beyond the basic horror of taking children from parents with the express purpose of terrorizing people to dissuade future potential migrants, one constant of the "zero tolerance" program was that there was never any plan to reunite the families. Officials never even tried to track which children belonged to which parents, and as a recent Inspector General's report found, once kids went from the hands of the Border Patrol to HHS's Office of Refugee Settlement, which contracted out the baby jails and foster programs, the Justice Department had no interest at all in what happened to the kids. Literally not their department.
That indifference to record-keeping was apparently baked in from the start of the pilot program, which explains how so many parents were deported with no attempt to keep track of where they or their children were. It seems to be mostly dumb luck that most of the "zero tolerance" parents were still in detention when the court ordered the families to be reunited. As we've called it all along, this was weaponized incompetence, cruelty compounded by bureaucratized chaos.
First we need to eject Donald Trump from the presidency in two weeks, and once that's done, we need to pressure Joe Biden to set up a special office to reunite the families. (A congressional Truth Commission, too, not to mention a special prosecutor.) The people who made this happen, from John Kelly and Stephen Miller to Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein, from Kirstjen Nielsen on down through the ranks of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, and HHS, need to be held accountable.
But finding the parents is the top priority. For fuckssake, we have to find the parents, and probably pay for thousands and thousands of sessions of family therapy, too. Then maybe we can start to undo the evil of the past four years.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.