Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement in May that anyone crossing the border illegally would be prosecuted, and his subsequent announcement that asylum seekers would now be included in that policy, hundreds of children have been separated from their families and held in government facilities.
The Associated Press reports that the youngest of the children removed from their parents and labeled as “unaccompanied minors” are being held in three “tender age” facilities in Texas: Combes, Raymondville, and Brownsville. A fourth shelter is being set up in Houston, in a warehouse previously used during Hurricane Harvey, and would hold 240 children, according to Mayor Sylvester Turner. Turner has objected to the plan, saying, ““And so there comes a point in time we draw a line and for me, the line is with these children.”
The Department of Health and Human Services defines “tender age” as children 12 and under. Customs and Border Protection has defined it as 5 and under at times, allowing districts to use their discretion to determine how young a child is too young to remove from the parent.
The Associated Press reports that government officials could not give a breakdown of ages of the 2,342 children who have been separated from their parents since the new policy went into effect in May.
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.”
The government is attempting to hire caregivers who can serve this vulnerable population in a system that is overwhelmed by the wave of children much younger than shelters normally see, including infants separated from their mothers. The Hill reports that the Michigan Department of Civil Rights released a statement saying that migrant children as young as three months old have arrived in Michigan to be placed temporarily into foster care.
Experts who have visited the “tender age” Rio Grande Valley shelters have “described play rooms of crying preschool-age children in crisis”.
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.
“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.
The Trump Administration has come under fire for the new policy from religious organizations and from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The Department of Health and Human Services rejects the criticism that the Trump Administration policy which forces the separation of children from parents is inhumane.
Not so, said Steven Wagner, an official with the Department of Health and Human Services.
“We have 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,” he said. “They’re not government facilities per se, and they have very well-trained clinicians, and those facilities meet state licensing standards for child welfare agencies, and they’re staffed by people who know how to deal with the needs — particularly of the younger children.”
The AP is reporting that the president is signaling today that he will move to end the border family separations, after days of surrogates and lawmakers declaring it was out of Trump’s hands and doing so as recently as this morning.
Sen. Cornyn an hour ago: "What was not encouraging was Sen. Schumer’s mischaracterization of the president’s ability to somehow fix this with a flick of a pen. He cannot. It’s going to require Congress to act.” https://t.co/fv6ZHTsfd8
— Burgess Everett (@burgessev) June 20, 2018
BREAKING: Trump says he'll be "signing something" on immigration, wants to keep migrant families together.
— The Associated Press (@AP) June 20, 2018
BREAKING: AP Sources: Homeland Security secretary drafting order to end family separation at border; unclear if Trump will sign it.
— The Associated Press (@AP) June 20, 2018
This is a developing story. The News Blender will report new developments as we can confirm them.