By far the toughest part for the child victims of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy is being unable to see their parents and not really knowing if—or when—they ever will.
Next are the imposing rules, such as no physical contact including among siblings, no running, no sitting on the floor, no sharing food, etc. And the tasks are tough, too, such as cleaning the toilets and emptying the garbage. Sometimes, there are threats.
All of this is documented in a lengthy report by The New York Times published over the weekend called, “Cleaning Toilets, Following Rules: A Migrant Child’s Days in Detention.”
It describes some of the situations faced by thousands of migrant children who were separated from their parents at the U.S. border starting in May and sent to over 100 government-contracted detention facilities around the country. According to the report, these facilities “are a rough blend of boarding school, day care center and medium security lockup.”
With a court order pending that requires the U.S. government to reunite these children with their families by July 26, over 2,800 kids over the age of 5 still remain in detention centers and facilities across the country. On Friday, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw admonished Trump administration officials for appearing not to take his previous reunification orders and deadlines seriously.
“It is clear from Mr. Meekins’s declaration that HHS either does not understand the court’s orders or is acting in defiance of them,” Sabraw wrote on Friday, referring to Health and Human Services Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Chris Meekins, the Associated Press reported.
In addition to the July 26 deadline, Sabraw had ordered the government to reunite all children under 5 with their parents by July 10. The government blew that deadline, joining with parents only 57 of the 103 children under 5 that it had separated, according to reports.
The thousands of children who remain in isolated custody live in conditions ranging “from impersonally austere to nearly bucolic, save for the fact that the children are formidably discouraged from leaving and their parents or guardians are nowhere in sight,” the Times reported.
While some of these shelters have recreational areas and swimming pools, others aren’t conducive to being a kid at all.
As the newspaper describes it:
Still, some elements of these detention centers seem universally shared, whether they are in northern Illinois or South Texas. The multiple rules. The wake-up calls and the lights-out calls. The several hours of schooling every day, which might include a civics class in American history and laws, though not necessarily the ones that led to their incarceration.
Most of all, these facilities are united by a collective sense of aching uncertainty — scores of children gathered under a roof who have no idea when they will see their parents again.
One 12-year-old Guatemalan girl who is being held in South Texas, Leticia, said she wrote a “stack” of letters to her mother who is detained in Arizona. But Leticia isn’t allowed to send them or receive any mail of her own, and she isn’t allowed to write them in her dorm room or until homework is finished. She said she’s saving the letters in a folder for the day she sees her mother again.
Scrubbing toilets and mopping the bathroom before breakfast is another requirement for children like 10-year-old Diego, from Brazil:
Apart from worrying about when he would see his mother again, Diego said that he was not afraid, because he always behaved. He knew to watch for a staff member “who was not a good guy.” He had seen what happened to Adonias, a small boy from Guatemala who had fits and threw things around.
“They applied injections because he was very agitated,” Diego said. “He would destroy things.”