Children are being abused in immigration facilities where there is neither justice nor accountability

In July, ProPublica’s investigation of the conditions of immigrant youth shelters found a disturbing number of incidences of sexual abuse in multiple shelters around the United States. Within the past five years, police have responded to 125 calls reporting sex offences at shelters that solely serve immigrant children. Those numbers don’t include the additional 200 calls from more than a dozen shelters that care for at-risk youth. For children who are already facing obstacles, taking the dangerous trek crossing the border with or without their parents, the incidences of being abused by other residents and staff members is continuous traumatization. These children’s centers have received nearly $4.5 billion for housing and other services since the surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America in 2014. The high-profile incidents, where staff and residents have acted as predators, have led to arrests. One of the more heinous reports include a youth case worker who was convicted of molesting seven boys over nearly a year at an Arizona, having worked for months without a full background check. 

Substantial changes to protect children or investigate incidences at the shelters have been slow to address the issues in the shelters, to the point of gross negligence.

Late last month, investigators warned that the Trump administration had waived FBI fingerprint background checks of staffers and had allowed dangerously few mental health counselors at a tent camp housing 2800 migrant children in Tornillo, Texas. More recent reports suggest that investigations into reports by migrant children are opened and closed, within alarming speeds. Often within days, or even worse, hours. 

In one incident, a 13-year old named Alex was housed in Boystown, outside Miami. Alex was assaulted by other residents of the facility. After a few days of harassment by the perpetrators, Alex reported the assault to his counselor: “The counselor told him that a surveillance tape had captured the teenagers dragging him by his hands and feet into a room, and that there might have been a witness. But Alex’s report did not trigger a child sexual assault investigation, including a specialized interview designed to help children talk about what happened, as child abuse experts recommend. Instead, the shelter waited nearly a month to call the police. When it finally did, a police report shows, the shelter’s lead mental health counselor told the officers ‘the incident was settled, and no sexual crime occurred between the boys like first was thought among the staff.’ And instead of investigating the incident themselves, officers with the Miami-Dade Police Department took the counselor’s word for it and quickly closed the case, never interviewing Alex.” 

A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Miami reported that it had handled the boy’s case correctly and blamed Alex for the delays. The Archdiocese has received $6 million in Miami just last year to care for 80 children at Boystown. 

Many obstacles are put into place to stop children like Alex from speaking about their assaults. Children are intimidated by their attackers from coming forward, especially if that attacker is a staff member. Staffers at immigrant shelters report or conduct investigations, if at all, at a snail’s pace. Finally, many youth and their families fear reporting to the police, for fear of arrest and deportation. 

Alex’s mother, Yojana, enraged that it had taken nearly three weeks to hear of the incident from staff, immediately wanted to go to the police and demand accountability from the shelter and the attackers, but her status as undocumented made her fearful of retaliation and arrest from ICE. As ICE agents have been arresting parents and family members, or members of their household when they come forward to claim their children — 170 sponsors or people connected to them have been arrested and 109 of those people had no prior criminal record — Yojana and her husband Jairo’s fear of being detained was legitimate. Alex feared his report would delay his release from the center. 

Youth immigrant shelters have received large sums of money from the federal government to take care of children separated from their parents or detained because they came into the country as unaccompanied minors. When those children are hurt or abused while in those shelters, it is this country’s fault, the fault of the citizens who ignore and vilify those same children and their families. It is the non-profit’s fault for taking their money and not investing it in the care of children who are housed and waiting to go to their parents or guardians. The fault lies in the current administration and previous administration who caused the crises in Central America and now refuse to come to terms with the consequences of their actions in creating large populations of asylum seekers.

(Image Credit: ProPublica / Hokyoung Kim)

Australia tortures migrant children

The Australian government continues to torture refugee and asylum seeking children. The State currently holds some 2000 children in detention. That’s mandatory detention for all non-citizens who arrive without prior authorization. That rule includes children. And so there is a `furor’ of  `concern’ for the well-being, and in particular for the mental health, of the children behind bars.

None of this is new, and none of it is surprising. A mandatory incarceration policy that makes no exceptions for children, and in particular for children fleeing violence and persecution, will have exactly the effects you imagine. Seemingly healthy children will engage in `self-harm’. This includes slashing one’s body and suicide by any and every means possible. Children report not being able to sleep. Children report a desperate desire to go to school, to play, to have normal children’s lives. Children report fear that they will go crazy and kill themselves. And then they kill themselves.

For girls, the situation is equally predictable. Girls are `particular’: “Girls and young women are at particular risk of gender based violence and sexual abuse… Girls and young women are particularly at risk of harm due to their sex… Moreover, girls are particularly susceptible to marginalization, poverty and suffering during armed conflict, and many may have experienced gender-based violence in the context of armed conflict.” The particularity of girls’ vulnerability emerges from both detailed and extensive research scholarship and from simple common sense. You know migrant girls, girl refugees, and asylum-seeking girls are `particular.’ So does the Australian government. What does the State do in recognition of this particularity? Absolutely nothing. Less than nothing. It intensifies and increases the pain, the torment, and the torture.

Children in low-security prisons in Pontville, in Tasmania, and in Darwin, in the Northern Territory, are falling apart. Their precariousness is not about this condition or that condition. It emerges directly from the totality of being-caged. The intensity and levels of self-harm in both locations is off the chart. Meanwhile, Australian Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs has been informed that she cannot visit the refugee and asylum seeker detention camps on Nauru and Manus Islands because that would violate the sovereignty of the island nations. Australia’s massive funding of those prison camps apparently did not violate any sovereignty. Australia’s insistence on shipping off hundreds of women, girls, boys, and men to the island nations also did not violate any sovereignty proprieties. This is the way of sovereignty, the wink-wink nudge-nudge of fraternal violence.

This is why the Australian government can so easily ignore reports of sexual violence against Tamil refugees, and especially the `particular’ targeting of Tamil girls. To accept such reports would violate Sri Lankan sovereignty, and after all, the refugees and asylum seekers had already violated Australian sovereignty. That’s why they’re in prison, isn’t it? It’s a perfect circle … of hell.

Rather than `discovering’ yet again the nightmare of child detention, why not discover the simple, open alternative? Recognize and respect the particularity of girls. Take the children, all the children, far from the cages. Teach them to respect themselves and others. Help them to find peace and love. End child detention. Do it now.

 

(Image Credit: The Green Journal AU)

 

Migrants: We are all children of migrants

 

Saturday, 5th of March 2011.

Yarl’s Wood continues.

The women behind the fences are saying something about their children, but it is difficult to hear what exactly.  They seem to be shouting something about their right to stay with their children.  Perhaps they are referring to the effects of recent policy changes.

In October, a case was brought forth on behalf of two single mothers and their children who were detained at Yarl’s Wood by UK Border Agency (UKBA) officers after dawn raids on their homes earlier in the year. In December 2010, in response, the government `signaled’ its intention to bring to an end children’s detention. This included closure of the ‘family unit’ at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre and the suspension of children’s detention in any immigration facility over the Christmas period.

In January 2011, a court decision established that the detention of some families, including children in Yarl’s Wood, was unlawful. This decision required the government to bring to an immediate end the detention of children in immigration removal centers. The immediate response from the Home Office was that the detention of families ‘would be kept to a minimum’, while officials drew up ‘alternative arrangements’ to ‘protect the welfare of children without undermining immigration law’.

We demonstrated outside Yarl’s Wood partly to denounce the government’s ‘skillful’ use of publicity about ‘ending the detention of children’ as a way of avoiding talking about the brutal and inhumane detention regime in general. But even among some of the civil society groups that have specifically supported the end of children detention, suspicions remain concerning the government’s version of  “alternatives” to child detention. While the plan does not include any concrete improvement in terms of early access to legal aid for refugee applicants, it does mention the establishment of ‘new family conferences’. These would ‘draw in lawyers, social workers and others’, with the aim of providing ‘realistic advice to people who had been refused refugee status on what their options were’. For those who would not accept voluntary repatriation “it would be necessary to detain them in ‘secure accommodation’ for periods of around 72 hours to ensure that their departure could be enforced’.

Migrant Rights Network argues that the ideas of ‘family conferences’ and a new ‘independent family review panel’ is dangerous.  It is quite easy to imagine that the large-scale detention of families with young children will be simply reproduced in a new form.  Furthermore, these family conferences risk turning exactly those social workers and other experts who should support migrants’ children and vulnerable adults’ welfare in their communities, into immigration control functions. Those who used to work for migrants in our communities will be absorbed into the machine of control and detention, ultimately ‘advocating’ ‘voluntary’ return and deportation.

The rhetoric of the UK government around the economic recession legitimizes increasingly restrictive policies against migrants. This then naturalizes chauvinistic and militaristic approaches towards the ‘management’ of immigration as part of the ‘big society’ discourse about having to ‘share’ the consequences of the economic downturn. Of course, `they’ must pay more than `us’. The politics of racism and gender discrimination are fully at play in this era of mobility restrictions and economic austerity.

Walking back from the fences we discuss the contradiction of today’s migration politics and how grassroots groups should respond to it in practice. Yes, we will probably have to support migrant’s individual demands for regularization but cannot afford to support the whole policy/ing logic based on the continuous differentiation of migrants, the production of multiple divisions, between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’, the more and the ‘less vulnerable’, those who ‘deserve’ integration and those who do not, or simply the right to access that which seems to become an ever increasingly ‘precious good’, conceded by national governments in Europe,  that is, the status of ‘legality’.

Many women currently detained in Yarl’s Wood have worked and toiled in this county already for many years. They are fluent in English. They have kids here. Here they have built their lives. This makes us particularly angry and astonished in front of the injustice of their detention, but it does not change the unconditionality of our claim: freedom of movement for all. Everyone, independent off period of stay and status, whether escaping poverty or war, environmental disaster or political persecution, gender or racial oppression, has the right to freedom of movement, and freedom to stay and search for a new life. After all, as we would remind the small group of police engaged in their performance of ‘protecting’ the prison from us, we are all the children of migrants.

 

(Photo Credit: womenagainstrape.net)

The United States abandons Mexican migrant children to violence and despair

Children waiting in the Desarrollo Integral de la Familia in Reynosa, Mexico

Migration analysts talk about sending and receiving nations. Sending nations are those countries that send, or `export’, its citizens to other countries. Receiving nations are those nations that receive, or `import’ or `absorb’, them. The status of some nation States has changed in the last two or three decades. For example, Italy and Greece were once considered sending nations, and today they are thought of as receiving nations.

Certain countries, such as the United States, are thought of as receiving nations. But that is only the case if the transnational and global export-import business is thought to be one of labor brokerage of national citizens. What are we to call those countries that export non-citizens, those countries that have made a business, a big business at that, of exporting asylum seekers, migrants, children?

Every year, the United States exports tens of thousands of unaccompanied migrant children to Mexico. These children are sent to centers run by Mexico’s social services agency called the Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, or DIF. In 2008, a Mexican congressional committee reported that the United States had deported 90,000 children, of whom at least 13,500 were never claimed. “Never claimed”: that means the children were never reunited with their families.

Who are these children? They are Mexican children who are heading to the north, most often to be reunited with … their families, with their mothers and fathers: “With few exceptions they’ll cross again because their parents or loved ones are en el otro lado and on the other side of the Rio Grande there is hope. Hope to study, to work, or to just hug their mothers or fathers again.”

Susana is in many ways exceptional and in other ways typical of the 90,000 children. First, she’s a girl; 80% of the children are boys. Second, as she sits in a DIF shelter in Matamoros, she says she’s ready to give up, to go home: ““I don’t want to stay here. I’m tired of fighting.” Gender and the intent to return home make her exceptional.

On the other hand, Susana has tried to enter the United States five times, and on each of the five attempts has failed. Every time, she was returned, unaccompanied, to Mexico. Every time, she turned around and tried again. Her father works in Kansas. They haven’t seen each other in five years. He works, struggles, and pays to have his daughter brought over. Each time, the journey costs $2500. Again and again, he pays, again and again she tries. Just to hug her father again. This makes her typical.

The children are sent to centers in Reynosa and Matamoros, centers of the current drug cartel and War on Drugs violence. Reynosa is reported to be one of the most dangerous places in Mexico. Often the children are released to strangers or to distant relatives. Often, some say more often than not, they are returned to the mean streets, and in particular those of Reynosa. So, they then go North because they want to, to be reunited or to study or work, or they go North because they are forced to. Some girls, some boys, may be tired of fighting, but that doesn’t mean they are safe. That doesn’t mean the fighting has tired of them.

What do you call a nation that seizes children, sends them unaccompanied into a violence torn war zone, and then washes its hands of the whole affair, and closes its eyes and ears to the fate of the children? That is neither a sending nor a receiving nation. That is a state of abandonment.

Susana wants to go home, but it’s not that simple. The center wants one of her parents to come and get her. Her father is in Kansas, her mother has to take care of her younger brothers and sisters. And so Susana waits, and like the other 90,000 Mexican children the United States has abandoned to violence and despair, haunts more than the borderlands. Susana haunts citizenship.

 

(Photo Credit: Texas Observer / Eugenio del Bosque)