UPDATE, 1145 GMT: The Trump Administration is sending babies and young children to at least three “tender age shelters” in south Texas.
Lawyers and medical providers described playrooms of crying preschool-age children in crisis.
But the Administration plans to open a fourth shelter to house hundreds of young migrant children in Houston. City leaders denounced the move.
“The thought that they are going to be putting such little kids in an institutional setting? I mean it is hard for me to even wrap my mind around it,” said Kay Bellor, vice president for programs at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “Toddlers are being detained.”
Preschoolers are also being sent elsewhere in the US. In a statement, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights criticized the forced separations and noted: “The children arriving here are much younger than those who have been transported here in the past. Some of the children are infants as young as three months of age and are completely unable to advocate for themselves.”
By law, child immigrants traveling alone must be sent to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services within three days of being detained. The agency then is responsible for placing the children in shelters or foster homes until they are united with a relative or sponsor in the community, as they and their parents await immigration court hearings.
Steven Wagner, an official with the Department of Health and Human Services, asserted:
We have specialized facilities that are devoted to providing care to children with special needs and tender age children as we define as under 13 would fall into that category. They’re not government facilities per se, and they have very well-trained clinicians, and those facilities meet state licensing standards for child welfare agencies, and they’re staffed by people who know how to deal with the needs — particularly of the younger children.
Until now, however, it’s been unknown where they are. HHS says it does “not identify the locations of permanent unaccompanied alien children program facilities”.
UPDATE, 1130 GMT: Trump advisor and former advisor Corey Lewandowski sneers at the story of a child with Down’s Syndrome taken from her parents:
.@Zac_Petkanas on Fox News: “I read today about a 10-year-old girl with Down Syndrome who was taken from her mother and put in a cage…”
Corey Lewandowski: “Womp womp.” pic.twitter.com/MOiVf0vVGv
— Caroline O. (@RVAwonk) June 20, 2018
Amid further criticism, Donald Trump maintains defense of his policy separating immigrant children from their parents, stepping up lies and declaring that immigrants “infest” the US.
Since April’s “no tolerance” policy was announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, on the orders of Trump, almost 2,500 children have been seized and taken to detention centers as their parents await court hearings over border crossings. While the immigrants have a legal right to claim asylum at a port of entry, they are being detained before they can reach a port.
Criticism has been spurred by revelations both of the scale of the detentions and of conditions in the centers, with children behind steel fencing, no books and toys, and staff not allowed to console or hug those who are crying and traumatized. Reporters and legislators, finally allowed to see some of the centers over the weekend, have been forbidden to take photographs or speak to the children; however, secretly-recorded audio from ProPublica caused furor on Monday with its sounds of children crying and pleading to border officers who laughed at them.
But, in a stream of five tweets on Tuesday morning, Trump doubled down on his rhetoric and denunciation of immigrants. He started by repeating his lie that “crime in Germany is up 10% plus” because of migrants and refugees (in fact, crime fell 10% in the country last year and is now at its lowest point since 1990). He continued with the platitude, “If you don’t have Borders, you don’t have a Country!” and then combined another lie — that there is a “Democratic” law behind the separations, rather than his one policy — with the invocation of the MS-13 gang and invective against all immigrants:
Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13. They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2018
In yet another distortion, Trump conflated those children who are in the US system as “unaccompanied minors” — under Obama Adminstration policy, placed with guardians or other shelters — with the children who are being separated from parents:
We must always arrest people coming into our Country illegally. Of the 12,000 children, 10,000 are being sent by their parents on a very dangerous trip, and only 2000 are with their parents, many of whom have tried to enter our Country illegally on numerous occasions.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2018
Trump continued his campaign with a speech to the National Federation of Independent Businesses. He quickly left the area of NFIB’s interest, efforts to assist small businesses, to try and link the immigration issue with “child smuggling”. He proclaimed his desire for a “merit-based” immigration system, said — misleadingly, given the detentions of the past six weeks — that people are being able to claim asylum “legally”, and then spent some time using the “MS-13 gang” narrative to justify his actions.
Trump even sabotaged the efforts of Republican Senators, led by Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, to get out of the difficulties with an increase in judges to hear immigration cases. He derided the effort as one that would only put unqualified people on the bench who would let in immigrants and would be subject to graft.
In a revealing comment, Trump then said he wanted to set aside any legal process, “I don’t want to try people. I want to stop people coming in.”
He summarized that, while he did not want to see the separations, “you have to take the children away”.
In an hour-long meeting on Capitol Hill with House Republicans, Trump declined to back either a hardline bill, which funds The Wall with Mexico but also bars a path to citizenship for 800,000 “Dreamer” immigrants, or a compromise alternative which maintains the pather for the Dreamers, who came to the US as children with their parents.
Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he planned to reach out to Democrats to support a GOP effort, ending the separations while adopting a bill. But Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the separations must be stopped by Trump before legislation can proceed: “Anyone who believes this Republican Congress is capable of addressing this issue is kidding themselves. The President can end this crisis with the flick of his pen, and he needs to do so now.”
Republican legislators have been slow to challenge Trump, but in a sign of growing concern, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and 12 colleagues sent a letter to the Justice Department asking for an end to separations. Hatch told reporters that the separation policy is “not American”.
Meanwhile, four Governors — of Massachusetts, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia — said that they are withdrawing their states’ National Guard personnel from border security duties because of the Trump policy.
Until this policy of separating children from their families has been rescinded, Maryland will not deploy any National Guard resources to the border. Earlier this morning, I ordered our 4 crewmembers & helicopter to immediately return from where they were stationed in New Mexico. https://t.co/TEfkUXF7ZN
— Governor Larry Hogan (@GovLarryHogan) June 19, 2018
“Separations May Be Permanent”
Advocates are continuing to emphasize the deficiencies in the system in which thousands of childrens are suddenly being detained. With inadequate provision and juveniles in “cages”, some children are being “lost” because of failure to maintain records as they are being moved across the US.
Michelle Brané, director of migrant rights and justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission, said, “I cannot convey enough how much utter chaos there is. The government does not have a proper system in place to track families and coordinate.”
John Sandweg, the former director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, summarized:
What you’re seeing now is an intentional and systemic approach to separating parents from their children in order to try to deter additional people from Central America from coming….
If the administration doesn’t reunify these children very quickly, which is logistically very hard to do, you’re going to have a lot of permanent separations.
Protesters Drive Homeland Security Director Nielsen from Restaurant
Homeland Security Director Kirstjen Nielsen, prominent this week in her repetition of Trump’s lies, left a Washington restaurant on Tuesday night after protesters challenged her.
LIAR. Apparently you didn't realize there was video of a restaurant full of people screaming, "Shame Shame Shame!!" at @SecNielsen for her lies about and enforcement of Trump's barbaric policy of kidnapping & torturing migrant children and babies.#Maddowpic.twitter.com/dOJuR6Nkdy
— Polly Sigh (@dcpoll) June 20, 2018
Nielsen tweeted on Sunday, “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period”, and has repeated the statement at press conferences.
The Department of Homeland Security later reframed the incident:
While having a work dinner tonight, the Secretary and her staff heard from a small group of protestors who share her concern with our current immigration laws that have created a crisis on our southern border.
— Tyler Q. Houlton (@SpoxDHS) June 20, 2018