Saturday, March 13, 2021

Children Jammed Into A Tent At The Border, In The Middle Of A Global Pandemic

Guest blogger: Kathleen Jordan McMahon, law student, University of San Francisco

At a border patrol facility in Donna, Texas, hundreds of immigrant children have been held in a tent with very unsafe conditions, in the middle of the Covid-19 Pandemic. The children are so close together that they are touching – additionally, some children are even sleeping on the floor because there isn’t enough room for them to sleep on mats, like the other children. Nonprofit lawyers overseeing immigration detention centers interviewed children who stated that they had been staying at the facility for more than a week – even though there is a three-day limit for detaining children. Additionally, many of the children have not been allowed to call their concerned loved ones, whom have no idea where their children are.

     The conditions at this holding facility in Texas are horrendous – some children have told the lawyers overseeing the immigration detention centers of the conditions – that they have had to wait five or more days to shower and when they do finally shower, there is no shampoo, soap, etc.  Although the Biden Administration claims to be transparent, the Administration has denied the lawyers access to the tent facility. Under the 1997 court settlement known as Flores, lawyers are entitled to conduct oversight of child detention.

     Although the Biden Administration’s treatment of immigrant children has been much better than the Trump Administration’s, experts and lawyers in this area still field that more can be done. HHS and Border Patrol are still detaining young children who have been separated from their caretakers. An example of this recently is a four-year-old girl from Guatemala. The child crossed the border on March 5, 2021 and was separated from her aunt. The child was then labeled as unaccompanied, and was placed in the holding tent at Donna, Texas. This four-year-old little girl has undergone so much trauma, that she was unable to speak to her own mother for nearly twenty minutes on the phone. It begs the question of – what long term damage has this situation done to the child?

     After the little girl’s mother threatened to sue, she was notified that her daughter’s release had been expedited by the government. Why does it take the threatening of a lawsuit for the government to see the wrong in their actions? After all, the government is comprised of human beings as well, right? The government is not some system of robots running the country – rather it is a body of well educated, adults who seem to have the ability to disregard the damage that is done when a child is separated from their loved ones. What has our nation become?

     In law school, we are taught the rule and application of the law. The problem with law school, which subsequently translates into the government, is that because we are only taught what the law is – we are not taught the effects of the law on the human psych. Sure – we aren’t psychologists, we are lawyers. The government is largely comprised of attorneys. Although I understand that we are taught, as law students and subsequently lawyers, that separating our feelings from the law is necessary, I believe in some circumstances – such as in the case of this little girl – that is the WRONG way to practice and uphold the law and constitution. Yes, we are lawyers, but you know what? We are humans too.

     The fact that all official government agencies involved in this little four-year-old girl’s case refused to expedite her release until her mother threatened to sue, is extremely concerning. It goes to show that the government does not care about the well-being of people. In fact, they have the opposite intentions. They continue their wildly (arguably grossly negligent) conduct in their handling of immigrant children, with complete disregard of the harm that they cause these poor children. It is truly frightening, that we as a nation can treat other human beings with such indifference.

     With Biden now in office, there seems to be a little more hope for this country but wow, we sure have a lot of work to do. Maybe in law school they should teach about the psychological effects that the application, arguing and enforcement of the law can have on other human beings.


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