1,475 kids. That’s how many immigrant children immigration control lost last year. Granted, the Department of Human and Health Services (HHS), which works closely with ICE, has stated they have “lost track” of them, which doesn’t necessarily mean the kids are lost, but that’s a worrisome number. How many of these kids could be in grave danger right now? How many have been taken by traffickers?
These children were seized at the border, unaccompanied by adults, and sent to live with “sponsors.” Most of these sponsors are family members, but also many are not. Additionally, the sponsors of some of the 1,475 lost children may not have responded to HHS’s follow-up calls. However, 1,475 is still a large number of people for HHS to have no idea about their whereabouts. Furthermore, the attitude of the Department of Human and Health Services has towards this entire situation is problematic. They claim it’s not their “responsibility” to have to keep track of these kids, but shouldn’t it be basic humanity to make sure children you’re handing to potential strangers are safe and well? These kids deserve safety.
This has undertones similar to what happened in 2014, when detained kids were literally trafficked into slavery in the US. Guatemalan children who made the long journey north were stopped at the border by immigration control and shipped off to shady “sponsors” (who were accomplices of a smuggler) and then corporations as cheap labor. At Trillium Farms, this scheme was finally discovered, but this is no isolated case. A PBS documentary detailed the stories of those Guatemalan children and has discovered similar plots around the United States. It’s chilling to think how many children’s lives HHS has just thrown around with no regard for their safety.
ICE and HHS are both in charge of immigration control, and yet, both have very troublesome attitudes towards unauthorized immigrants. Just in general, ICE agents seem to have very little care for the lives of those immigrants. A group called No More Deaths sets out water for immigrants in the desert – however, a video revealed ICE officers cruelly sabotaging these jugs of water, such as kicking them and emptying them out, even when the government explicitly tells them not to. This water could save lives, but ICE doesn’t seem to care. A quote from a migrant states “I needed water, some of the other people in the group needed water, but we found them destroyed. [I felt] helplessness, rage. They must hate us. It’s their work to capture us, but we are humans. And they don’t treat us like humans … They break the bottles out of hate.” ICE even cracked the jugs to the point where they were unusable so migrants couldn’t reuse them at water filling stations. So much for “Give me your tired, your poor.”
ICE clearly does not view or treat migrants as humans. As another deterrent, senior border enforcement officials have proposed separating children from parents if caught. There is almost no reason for the government to purposefully split apart families fleeing violence and bad conditions in their own countries. This is incredibly inhumane, and knowing the previous issues ICE has had with keeping track of kids, many of these kids are as good as gone.
These people have very real reasons to leave their countries – no one decides to pack up their bags and leave everything they’ve ever known behind to face an uncertain future on a whim. Using people’s own children as objects of “deterrence” is undeniably uncalled for. On Twitter, a father’s heartbreaking statement was released as he was wrenched from his son: “My son was crying as I put him in the seat. I did not even have a chance to try to comfort my son, because the officers slammed the door shut as soon as he was in his seat. I was cry, too. I cry even now when I think about that moment when the border officers took my son away.”
Finally, detention centers are essentially prisons with terrible living conditions. In addition to spoiled food, no access to medical support, and barely working bathrooms, detainees are also pretty much forced to work for pennies, by the Corrections Corporations of America (CCA), which coincidentally also runs the for-profit prison industry (you can read about my thoughts on for-profit prisons here). The work is apparently “voluntary” but detention officials threaten these asylum seekers that don’t decide to work that they’d weaken their asylum cases in front of the judge. This is modern slavery in that ICE is forcing people against their will to work for free with severe punishments if they refuse. These people deserve to be treated like human beings – they are trying to escape oppression, not subject themselves to more of it.
ICE regularly harrasses people living in the United States who are doing no harm. Through raids and arrests, even the most law-abiding unauthorized immigrants are deported. There have been stories of people awaiting green card or visa status deported as they make routine visits to ICE offices. Of course, there’s always the argument of “well, they’re here illegally so they need to be punished,” but why though? If they’re living normal lives and not hurting anyone else, they’re essentially adding value and contributing to society, which should be a goal of any citizen. People will always try to point to immigrants not paying taxes as a reason to kick them out, but research shows that illegal immigrants do pay a good amount of taxes, even paying for things they can’t use like Medicaid and social security. Even then, deportations are extremely costly for America, and there are many possible unintended consequences, such as the weakening of the agriculture industry.
Border security definitely has pros and cons but one thing is certain – immigration control needs to be changed. Based on their actions, it seems the entire attitude of the immigration regulation agencies is one built on the assumption that asylum seekers/immigrants are subhuman. This is unacceptable for a government agency, and unfair for the people risking their lives for a shot at escaping the problems of their home country. If we want to control illegal immigration, we need to do so in a humane and respectful way; for example, not sending undocumented children to labor camps or forcing asylum-seekers to basically work for pennies in a for-profit prison.
Contact Tiger Sun at tgsun ‘at’ stanford.edu.