What is it called when one white child is kidnapped in America? An Amber Alert. What’s it called when 2,342 brown refugee children are kidnapped in America? Spring of 2018, under the White House’s Zero Tolerance Policy.
Here’s the timeline of this new approach to our immigration crisis, taken directly from the Justice Department’s official website, in the words of Attorney General Jeff Sessions:
April 11, 2018: “On Friday President Trump ordered me to report to him on what we have done—and what we can do in the future—to fix this broken system. That same day, I ordered a change to Department criminal prosecution policies on for those who enter our country illegally. I have ordered each United States Attorney’s Office along the southwest border to have a zero tolerance policy toward illegal entry. Our goal is to prosecute every case that is brought to us. There must be consequences for illegal actions, and I am confident in the ability of our federal prosecutors to carry out this new mission.” (Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks on Immigration Enforcement, Las Cruces, NM ~ Wednesday, April 11, 2018)
Then, Sessions pulled the rug out from under the largest segment of those coming to the Southern border, families escaping violence and death by gangs in Central America and coming to seek legal asylum as refugees.
June 11, 2018: "I understand that many victims of domestic violence may seek to flee from their home countries to extricate themselves from a dire situation or to give themselves the opportunity for a better life…But the asylum statute is not a general hardship statute…The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes--such as domestic violence or gang violence--or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime cannot itself establish an asylum claim." (AG Sessions quotes in Justice Department Statement, June 11, 2018, Source USA Today)
So the asylum seekers were suddenly redefined as criminals, AND the legal ports of entry began to be blocked.
June 14, 2018: “So let me clear a few things up. Yes, we are pursuing a “zero tolerance” prosecution policy at the border. Under the laws of this country, illegal entry is a misdemeanor. Re-entry after having been deported is a felony. Under the law, we are supposed to prosecute these crimes. Accordingly, I have ordered our prosecutors to pursue 100 percent of the illegal entries on the Southwest border that DHS refers to us. If you cross the Southwest border unlawfully, then the Department of Homeland Security will arrest you and the Department of Justice will prosecute you. That is what the law calls for—and that is what we are going to do. Having children does not give you immunity from arrest and prosecution. However, we are not sending children to jail with their parents. The law requires that children who cannot be with their parents be placed in custody of the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours.” (Attorney General Sessions Addresses Recent Criticisms of Zero Tolerance By Church Leaders, Fort Wayne, IN ~ Thursday, June 14, 2018)
So in the last few weeks, we’ve seen the heartbreaking pictures and heard the gut-wrenching audio of boys, girls, toddlers, and babies crying out for their parents. We’ve heard that staff are not permitted to pick up, hold or comfort these desperate little ones. Everybody wants to know exactly what’s the truth, and our government is stone-walling. A few Congress members have gone down to investigate, but our West Virginia delegation is nowhere to be seen.
Here’s why this matters, and here’s what everybody qualified to work in Health & Human Services should have already known.
This is systematic child abuse inflicted by our federal government, and it will have lasting effects on every one of the children who were forcibly taken from their families.
I’m going to share a quick lesson from my paid job as a child abuse prevention specialist. You may or may not have heard about ACES research, also known as the Adverse Childhood Experiences. It’s not some snowflake, liberal theory. It’s the actual science behind a growing field of trauma-informed care specialists in medicine, child welfare, and our law enforcement and education systems. Basically, the ACES evidence shows that severe or accumulated childhood stress increases the odds of lifelong physical and mental health problems.
Here’s a picture of two different brain scans. The one on the left is a typical healthy child brain. The one on the right is from a child raised from infancy in a Romanian orphanage. You can see the physical results. Both children had food, shelter and basic physical needs met. But the child in the orphanage had no parental figure, nobody to hold, love and provide the secure, nurturing attachment that every baby and child needs. The neglected brain very much resembles that of an Alzheimer’s patient. Yes, this picture is an extreme example. But is shows the physical, chemical and perhaps lasting impact of the kind of instability and warehouse conditions these refugee children are being subjected to.
So regardless of whether these little ones have beds to sleep in, food to eat, medical care, clean diapers - the emotional torture of separation is real. There may not be bruises or contusions, but the continued toxic stress on their developing brain cells is already causing damage, in some cases, irreversible lifelong damage. And sure, we always say children are resilient. But unless these children are joined again with their parents, and soon, we will have 2,342 young immigrants who risk lives without hope, without empathy, without prospects for productive citizenship anywhere.
So yesterday the president signed the order saying the separations will stop.
But here’s what they forgot to do - build in a way for these thousands of children already taken away to be reunited with their parents. According to a new report in the New Yorker “Several months ago, as cases of family separation started surfacing across the country, immigrant-rights groups began calling for the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.), which is in charge of immigration enforcement and border security, to create procedures for tracking families after they are split up. At the time, D.H.S. said that it would address the problem, but there is no evidence that it actually did so. A federal public defender in El Paso said the problems begin at the moment of arrest. ‘Our client gets arrested with his or her child out in the field. Sometimes they go together at the initial processing, sometimes they get separated right then and there for separate processing. When we ask the Border Patrol agents at detention hearings a few days after physical arrest about the information they’ve obtained in their investigation, they tell us that the only thing they know is that the person arrested was with a kid. They don’t seem to know gender, age, or name.’
“Advocates are trying to piece together information about the whereabouts of children based on the federal charging documents used in the parent’s immigration case. “But where the child is being held often has nothing to do with where she and her parent were arrested. The kids get moved around to different facilities.” The federal departments involved in dealing with separated families have institutional agendas that diverge. Immigration and Customs Enforcement—the agency at the D.H.S. that handles immigrant parents—is designed to deport people as rapidly as it can, while O.R.R., the Office of Refugee Resettlement is designed to release children to sponsor or foster families in the U.S. Lately, O.R.R. has been moving more slowly than usual, which has resulted in parents getting deported before their children’s cases are resolved. There’s next to no coordination between the two agencies.” (“The Government has no plan for reuniting the immigrant families it is tearing apart,” The New Yorker, June 18, 2018)
Which brings me back to Attorney General Sessions. Who tried to justify this mess, this self-inflicted humanitarian crisis, this childhood atrocity, by referring to Biblical scripture.
And his own church, MY church, the United Methodist Church officially condemned his actions as child abuse. Quoting from an official statement on the denomination’s website: “In recent weeks, we have watched with horror at the implementation of policies from the Department of Justice regarding the treatment of people migrating to the United States.Furthermore — and in response to the ardent opposition from a wide array of faith communities — the officials responsible for these policies have recently used Christian scripture to justify their actions. To argue that these policies are consistent with Christian teaching is unsound, a flawed interpretation, and a shocking violation of the spirit of the Gospel.”
When you join or have a child baptized into the United Methodist church, you take a series of vows. The pastor asks you, “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”
Not only has Attorney General Sessions failed to live up to his baptismal vow and Christian duty, he along with others in this administration have actively promoted and delivered systematic evil, injustice and oppression in the name of border security. It has to end, and these innocent children must be reunited and in partial restitution for the trauma they’ve been subjected to, given safe asylum with their families if they should choose to remain in this country.
Congressman Jenkins, Senator Capito, Senator Manchin, we are not advocating for an open borders policy, we are speaking out for these children. From our hearts and in our shared outrage and grief, we are calling for 2,342 urgent Amber Alert-level family unification responses on the part of our federal government, and for comprehensive immigration laws that do not pervert the spirit that founded this nation of immigrants.
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