Trump admin 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 with another one planned in Houston. Lawyers and medical providers who have visited the shelters described play rooms of crying preschool-age children.
Due to the White House’s zero tolerance policy, 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. For context, it’s been decades since the US child welfare system ended the use of orphanages over concerns about the lasting trauma to children.
Shelters follow strict procedures surrounding who can gain access to the children in order to protect their safety which also keeps reporters and advocates from gathering information about their welfare. This is a Trump-created disaster, as the zero tolerance policy results in parents being arrested, turning their children into unaccompanied minors, on their own in the US immigration court system.
The United Nations, some Democratic and Republican lawmakers and religious groups have sharply criticized the policy, calling it inhumane. Department of Health and Human Services calls the facilities “specialized facilities that are devoted to providing care to children with special needs and tender age children as we define as under 13 would fall into that category.”
Doctors and lawyers who have visited the shelters said the facilities were fine, clean and safe, but the kids — who have no idea where their parents are — were hysterical, crying and acting out. Alicia Lieberman, who runs the Early Trauma Treatment Network at University of California, San Francisco, said decades of study show early separations can cause permanent emotional damage.
Days after Sessions announced the zero-tolerance policy, the government issued a call for proposals from shelter and foster care providers to provide services for the new influx of children taken from their families after journeying from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico. Federal officials said that since May, they have separated 2,342 children from their families, rendering them unaccompanied minors in the government’s care.
During a press briefing Tuesday, reporters repeatedly asked for an age breakdown of the children who have been taken. Officials from both law enforcement and Health and Human Services said they didn’t know how many children were under 5, under 2, or even so little they’re non-verbal.
“The facilities that they have for the most part are not licensed for tender age children,” said Michelle Brane, director of migrant rights at the Women’s Refugee Commission, who met with a 4-year-old girl in diapers in a McAllen warehouse where Border Patrol temporarily holds migrant families. “There is no model for how you house tons of little children in cots institutionally in our country. We don’t do orphanages, our child welfare has recognized that is an inappropriate setting for little children.”
For more: AP News