Fernanda Jacqueline Davila was taken from her grandmother when they approached the U.S. border in late July. Just two years old, Davila has spent the past two months communicating with a caseworker and translators before finally being brought before a judge.
The New York Times offered a heartbreaker this morning, publishing a profile of Davila’s journey through the makeshift judicial system that’s become the U.S. immigration courts. Davila was the 26th child Judge Randa Zagzoug ruled on that day; she was followed by four more to round out the afternoon. She was still the youngest ever to pass through the courtroom, according to the paper.
In the time between the American government entering her into its steadily growing stable of migrant children and her court date, Davila stayed at Cayuga Centers in New York City. The Times notes that “many” children were allowed to spend the night with foster families but that they had to remain in custody during the day. What this belies is the increasing number of cases in which the parents and extended family of detained children are being denied in their attempts to reconnect their families. As MSNBC reported in August, those reunification efforts are made even more difficult by the fact that, of the hundreds of undocumented children still detained after being separated from their families, most of their parents have already been deported. Take a recent report from the Associated Press, which similarly focused on the drama surrounding two-year-old Alexa.
Her mother, Araceli Ramos Bonilla, had applied for a U.S. visa in an attempt to bring her daughter to America and escape an abusive relationship with Alexa’s father. But the visa process dragged on, leading Ramos to pack up with Alexa and travel to the Texas border in 2015, before Trump’s ghoulish policy had set in. As the AP reported, she was stopped by Border Patrol and Alexa was taken from her custody. The agents told Ramos she would never see her daughter again and deemed Alexa an “unaccompanied minor.”
Fast forward 15 months and Ramos was deported after having her case assigned to a Louisiana immigration court that had denied 95 percent of all asylum requests (compared to a national average of 50), according to the report. Alexa was handed over to a pair of foster parents by a rural Michigan judge, who granted two American adults temporary guardianship. In total, it took 15 months, during which Ramos starting an online campaign in which she posted videos of her weeping and begging for a reunion with Alexa, before the U.S. legal system corrected its mistake.
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Ashley Tabaddor, the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told the Times that until the last year, cases like Alexa’s and Davila’s were rare. Before the adherence to the current fear-based immigration policy of family separation, she said the courts almost never saw cases concerning children under the age of six.
As of September, there were at least 12,800 kids in U.S. custody, roughly five times the number the were being held in the spring of 2017. They’re kids like Davila, no different from any other would-be American kid. Per the Times:
The youngest child to come before the bench in federal immigration courtroom No. 14 was so small she had to be lifted into the chair. Even the judge in her black robes breathed a soft “aww” as her latest case perched on the brown leather.
Her feet stuck out from the seat in small gray sneakers, her legs too short to dangle. Her fists were stuffed under her knees. As soon as the caseworker who had sat her there turned to go, she let out a whimper that rose to a thin howl, her crumpled face a bursting dam.
You shouldn’t need a reporter, or anyone, to wax poetic about two-year-olds losing months of their young lives to the shitshow that is the U.S. immigration system to understand that what’s happening to Alexa, Davila, and thousands of other kids is fucked up. Ultimately, the more distressing fact is that Davila, currently lost in the system, is not a cute, shy young girl with emotions and fears.
There, away from her family, she is just child No. 26 in courtroom 14.