Paula Dockery: The Trump administration’s outrageous treatment of kids

Children shouldn’t die in the custody of the U.S. government. But they are.
Immigrant children walk in a line outside the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children a former Job Corps site that now houses them.  Associated Press (2018)
Immigrant children walk in a line outside the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children a former Job Corps site that now houses them. Associated Press (2018)
Published June 7
Updated June 9

I’m mad as hell, and I want to do something about it.

Children don’t belong in cages. Children shouldn’t be separated from their families. Children shouldn’t be trapped in a van for 39 hours waiting to be reunited with their families.

Yet it’s happening here in the United States.

Children shouldn’t be sexually abused. Children shouldn’t be denied medical care. Children shouldn’t die in the custody of the U.S. government. But they are.

There have been seven deaths—that we know of—of children from 2 ½ to 16 years old over the past two years.

How many children have been separated? How many have been reunited? How many are lost? How many have been sexually abused? How many have been adopted without their parents’ knowledge? How many have been trafficked?

We don’t really know—our federal government doesn’t, either. If they do know, they’re not telling us much. Incredibly, they had no plan and no process put in place to reunite these children before they separated them.

I never thought this would be happening in our country. We are better than this. We care about the wellbeing of our children and other people’s children—or at least we used to.

Where is the outrage?

Maybe everyone is too busy living their own lives. Maybe most Americans don’t know it’s happening. I’d like to believe it’s not that they don’t care.

These days the news is coming at us fast and furious. It’s hard to keep up, and it’s getting difficult to separate fact from fiction. While we can have differing views on immigration, asylum seekers and the solution for dealing with an influx of immigrants at our borders, we should agree that all people deserve to be treated humanely.

Separating children from their parents will have a devastating and traumatizing impact, some of whom are as young as 5 months old. Many are toddlers who cry out for their moms and dads to no avail. They are scared; they are confused; they feel abandoned.

Who is hugging them? Who is comforting them? Who is reassuring them? It seems almost no one. If some accounts are true, it is not allowed.

Who is looking out for them?

There are some reporters who are trying to expose the magnitude of the problem, but they aren’t getting the information or access they need. There are members of Congress who are trying to see the children but are getting turned away.

There are lawyers who are taking on cases—some pro bono—who are slowly making progress. The ACLU and other groups like the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law are getting results in the courts, but their heroic efforts don’t seem to be lighting a fire under an administration whose agencies just don’t seem to care.

In April, Florida U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell went to a facility in South Florida and were turned away.

That same facility—in Homestead—was recently in the news for keeping children in a temporary shelter for more than the 20 days allowed and failing to transfer them to a licensed facility.

Unbelievably, the Homestead facility is not licensed by the state of Florida, not regulated by child welfare authorities, overcrowded and is operated for profit.

Homestead—a tented, military style facility—is the largest federal children’s shelter in the country, with more than 1,600. Its contract with the Department of Health and Human Services is for $220 million. At a cost of $1.2 million a day—$775 per child—it is estimated to be three times the cost of permanent shelters.

Is that what this is about? Warehousing children for profit?

Another incident that occurred in Texas in June 2018 just came to light. Vans were loaded with 37 migrant children ages 5-to-12 for what was supposed to be a 30-minute ride to a reunification center. Upon arrival they were held in the vans. The first child was reunified after 11 hours. Most waited 23 hours, and the last child was reunified after 39 hours.

If you left your child—or your dog—in the car for 39 hours, you’d likely be jailed.

I want you to be angry, too. This is not who we are. These are not our values. We must speak up and demand a stop to this travesty.

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She is now a registered NPA. [email protected]

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