It’s easy to forget that over 10,000 children have been stolen from us this year. With a different news headline being pushed down our throat every other day, we tend to focus on the now instead of what happened weeks or maybe even months ago. With the daily outrages committed by President Trump and his administration, each new tragedy becomes especially difficult to retain all the information. Myself included. I honestly couldn’t tell you about every incident from 2018 so far. Which is why I asked myself, “where are the children now?” But to answer that question, I had to remember how it all started.
In the beginning months of 2018, President Trump and his administration ordered the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border. With his zero-tolerance policy, Trump gave the order to detain thousands of children in less than comfortable facilities for weeks at a time. The idea behind his policy is that children could not legally accompany adults who are taken under custody.
So while the parents were prosecuted for illegally crossing the border, their children were turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services. The Office of Refugee Resettlement –which is within HHS– was required to place the children with a sponsor within the United States. Those sponsors include family members and friends. When children leave the care of the HHS, they receive a court notice, which their sponsors are responsible for ensuring their attendance. This resulted in most children not even speaking a word of English –with some of them as young as six-months old– appearing in court in front of a judge. If this doesn’t sound completely ridiculous, you should go on YouTube and search, “Trump’s America: A Child In Court Without A Lawyer.”
But then what happens if the child has no one in the U.S.? Or if that person couldn’t be tracked down? Or what if that sponsor isn’t fit to take the child in their custody? Some police officials said that they were working on reuniting kids with their parents or relatives, but they also considered alternative sponsors if reunification wasn’t possible – the alternative sponsors meaning foster care. When this happens, some parents who are jailed receive an informational flyer, in both English and Spanish, giving them directions to eventually find where their child is located. This list includes a hotline that parents can call to give and receive information. But many parents have said that they end up having to wait long periods of time, often resulting in no response.
Over time, with the government facilities becoming overcrowded and after a long process through the immigration court system, some children are deported. It could take years for children to be reunited with their parents, because after being prosecuted, the parents have to go through yet another lengthy immigration proceeding. For some families, it is entirely possible that they will remain permanently separated.
But this isn’t the majority of cases. Most children cross the border alone, without any family members. Usually due to the fact that their family is already located in the U.S., and despite the Trump administration’s efforts to discourage migrants, roughly the same number of children are crossing the border this year as in years past. The only big difference is that the fear brought on by stricter immigration laws has discouraged relatives and family friends from coming forward to sponsor the children. Sponsors would now have to submit fingerprints, and the data would be shared with immigration authorities. Because many of the sponsors are undocumented themselves, they are risking deportation if they come forward to claim a child. Those willing to become sponsors have to wait months for their fingerprints to be evaluated and reviewed. This issue also becomes a major factor as to why the detention centers are close to full capacity.
With the overcrowding of the government facilities, every case takes longer to be resolved. Children are then detained for longer amounts of time, and the longer they are detained, the higher the risk of them being exploited by traffickers and smugglers become. The longer they stay in those facilities, the more anxious and depressed they are likely to become. This can lead to violence with the staff as well as with one another, but who can blame them? I surely would start acting up too if I were locked in a building for months at a time.
Even though President Trump has signed an executive order to halt the family separation process he created, it will still take several months for families to be reunited. Unfortunately for many parents, they may never see their children again.