Innocents Imprisoned: Children Still in Cages?

It’s puzzling when we think an issue has been resolved, but it continues to surface. Such is the case with the children separated from their parents at the border, jailed in horrid conditions at for-profit prisons. A few background points:

∞ In July 2018, tens of thousands of people marched around the country, protesting the criminalization of those doing what any of us would do: fleeing dreadful violence to protect their children’s lives.

∞ In July 2019, people again demonstrated with signs carrying messages like, “Close the Camps!” The ACLU sued, saying more than 900 children have been separated from their parents since the practice was ordered to be stopped last year. How many children have since been returned?

∞ Last Friday, federal judge Dolly Gee in Los Angeles blocked administration rules that would have kept immigrant children in detention with their parents indefinitely. The Flores agreement will remain in place and NOT be used to deter refugees fleeing desperate conditions from seeking asylum. But does this apply to the children separated from their parents?

Earlier this year, a few attorneys were allowed into the detention centers, and they were horrified by conditions there. But elected members of Congress were prevented from entering, and now the press is not permitted entry. Meanwhile, the private prison system makes huge profits off miserable children, deprived of adequate food, showers, health care and education. According to a reports by Daniella Silva of NBC, Julia Ainsley of NBC, Senator Jeff Merkeley of Oregon, and others, children as young as toddlers are living in extremely crowded metal cages, in freezing temperatures, with no bedding or blankets. Citizens can’t find out about it, and we’re paying for it.

Rachel Maddow did a segment on this outrage July 30: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/aclu-says-more-900-migrant-children-separated-parents-last-year-n1036436. Especially touching is the interview Julia Ainsley did with a 17-year old boy. He had recently been released, and guaranteed anonymity, could report on conditions in the prison. He explained how children were so tightly squeezed together, they took turns sitting or lying down to sleep, and spent a great deal of their time standing. Most memorable: deprived of adequate food, the younger children cried, which would invite retaliation from the guards, so the older children shared theirs. What a tribute to the generous human spirit, that gives away desperately needed nutrition under terrible circumstances!

Because the children are grieving the loss of their families, and have no idea what will happen to them, they are certainly terrified and distraught. (See the long-term effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences in the review of Deepest Well, published on this site 7/28/19.) Guards punish those who cry, or ask for anything, including food or water. A 15-year old girl was sexually assaulted by a guard and there are reports of physical violence against other children by guards.

How can we ignore the suffering of the innocents? Everything in our religious traditions tells us to act. Next week, see suggestions on how to protest this human rights abuse.

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