Photo: AP

Just read this absolutely soul-crushing AP report that was published tonight (emphasis added throughout):

Trump administration officials have been sending babies and other young children forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border to at least three “tender age” shelters in South Texas, The Associated Press has learned.

Lawyers and medical providers who have visited the Rio Grande Valley shelters described play rooms of crying preschool-age children in crisis. The government also plans to open a fourth shelter to house hundreds of young migrant children in Houston, where city leaders denounced the move Tuesday.

Decades after the nation’s child welfare system ended the use of orphanages over concerns about the lasting trauma to children, the administration is standing up new institutions to hold Central American toddlers that the government separated from their parents.

“The thought that they are going to be putting such little kids in an institutional setting? I mean it is hard for me to even wrap my mind around it,” said Kay Bellor, vice president for programs at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which provides foster care and other child welfare services to migrant children. “Toddlers are being detained.”

The three centers — in Combes, Raymondville and Brownsville — have been rapidly repurposed to serve needs of children including some under 5. A fourth, planned for Houston, would house up to 240 children in a warehouse previously used for people displaced by Hurricane Harvey, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

Alicia Lieberman, who runs the Early Trauma Treatment Network at University of California, San Francisco, said decades of study show early separations can cause permanent emotional damage.

“Children are biologically programmed to grow best in the care of a parent figure. When that bond is broken through long and unexpected separations with no set timeline for reunion, children respond at the deepest physiological and emotional levels,” she said. “Their fear triggers a flood of stress hormones that disrupt neural circuits in the brain, create high levels of anxiety, make them more susceptible to physical and emotional illness, and damage their capacity to manage their emotions, trust people, and focus their attention on age-appropriate activities.”

On a practical level, the zero tolerance policy has overwhelmed the federal agency charged with caring for the new influx of children who tend to be much younger than teens who typically have been traveling to the U.S. alone. Indeed some recent detainees are infants, taken from their mothers.

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.

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 how many children were under 5, under 2, or even so little they’re non-verbal.

Houston mayor Sylvester Turner, whose city has been pegged as a new location for one of these jails for babies, decried the move. “And so there comes a point in time we draw a line and for me, the line is with these children,” Turner said on Tuesday.

Turner said he had met with officials from Southwest Key Programs, the federal contractor that would operate the shelter, to ask them to reconsider their plans. According to a Bloomberg report on Tuesday, Southwest Key Programs is set to make over $458 million off of operating child detention centers for the government this year.

According to the AP, the running number of children who have been forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border since the “zero-tolerance” policy was announced in May is over 2,342. Trump administration officials told the Washington Examiner that DHHS could be detaining as many as 30,000 children by the end of the summer.

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Per the AP, here’s another heartbreaking anecdote from a mother who has been forcibly separated from her young son, and is currently suing the Trump administration to be reunited with him:

On Tuesday, a Guatemalan mother who hasn’t seen her 7-year-old son since he was taken from her a month ago sued the Trump administration. Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia-Mejia was released from custody while her asylum case is pending and thinks her son, Darwin, might be in a shelter in Arizona.

“I only got to talk to him once and he sounded so sad. My son never used to sound like that, he was such a dynamic boy,” Mejia-Mejia said as she wept. “I call and call and no one will tell me where he is.”

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Once you decide that it’s fine to rip babies away from their parents, there is no going back. This immigration system is immoral, it is oppressive, and it is unmistakably fucking cruel. And it’s very much time for a new one.