Trump administration officials have been sending babies and other young children forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border to at least three “tender age” shelters in South Texas, The Associated Press has learned.
Lawyers and medical providers who have visited the Rio Grande Valley shelters described playrooms of crying preschool-age children in crisis. The government also plans to open a fourth shelter to house hundreds of young migrant children in Houston, where city leaders denounced the move Tuesday.
Doctors and lawyers who have visited the shelters said they were fine, clean and safe, but the kids — who have no idea where their parents are — were hysterical, crying and acting out.
“The shelters aren’t the problem, it’s taking kids from their parents that’s the problem,” said South Texas pediatrician Marsha Griffin, who has visited many.
Since the White House announced its “zero tolerance” policy in early May, more than 2,300 children have been taken from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, resulting in a new influx of young children requiring government care. The government has faced withering critiques over images of children in cages inside U.S. Border Patrol processing stations.
Decades after the nation’s child welfare system ended the use of orphanages over concerns about the lasting trauma to children, the administration is standing up new institutions to hold Central American toddlers whom the government separated from their parents.
“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 the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which provides foster care and other child welfare services to migrant children. “Toddlers are being detained.”
These shelters are not open to media coverage. Perhaps that’s because ICE and the administration know that if they were, the reaction from anyone with a heart would be visceral and overwhelming. What the hell kind of country are we that imprisons babies?
Mercifully the children may not retain actual memories of these events, but the scarring is already taking place. No matter what happens to them, whether they end up here or sent back, they are going to carry the trauma of this event with them for the rest of their lives, and it will leave a mark. Not just on them, but on us, and not just a mark of moral outrage and political reprisal. Forget about whether their parents are asylum seekers, drug smugglers, or gang members; we’re creating our own crop of traumatized people right now. The impact will be felt for years, perhaps generations.
And one way or another we will end up paying for it, years after the people who came up with this cruelty have left the stage or served out their term, prison or otherwise.