Categories
Immigration THE FRONT ARCHIVES

’The President Said We Can Call Our Kids — Why Is He Lying?’

It was sometime in the middle of June that Ofelia Calderón’s uneasiness hit its peak. Like other immigration lawyers around the country, Calderón, a founding partner at Calderón Seguin PLC, in Fairfax, Virginia, had been monitoring Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s “zero tolerance” policy, trying to figure out how the practice of prosecuting all individuals entering the country illegally would be implemented in reality. It was starting to become clear, to Calderón and her fellow lawyers, that it was playing out in unprecedented ways: Stories had begun leaking that migrant children were being separated from parents as soon as they crossed the border, with some infants even being ripped from their mothers’ arms while breastfeeding.

Calderón is on the board of Dulles Justice Coalition, a group of lawyers who first organized in the early weeks of Trump’s presidency to go to D.C.’s airports to help represent immigrants being turned away or detained following Trump’s Muslim ban. They had stayed together as a group because “it became apparent that there might be a need for rapid legal responses in the next four years,” Calderón says; the migrant children crisis, she says, “seemed like the kind of situation where we could deploy a rapid response.” And so on June 19, Calderón and two other Dulles Justice board members headed to south Texas to see how they could help.

That Friday, two days after Trump signed his executive order that ended the separation of families at the border while doing nothing to reunite those families already torn apart, the lawyers arrived at Port Isabel Detention Center, near the remote town of Los Fresnos, Texas. More than a thousand immigrants were being held following their prosecution for illegal entry at Port Isabel — a detention center the ACLU has said “looks and operates like a jail.”

Lawyers cannot just enter such detention centers and start talking to the people held there about their legal rights — “you have to know that someone’s there, you have to know their name, you have to know their alien registration number,” says Calderón. So they obtained entry through a local nonprofit that aids immigrants seeking asylum and that already had an agreement allowing volunteers into Port Isabel.

In the seventeen years Calderón has been practicing immigration law, she says, she’s heard horrifying stories from clients fleeing violence in countries like Guatemala and El Salvador. In Port Isabel, she interviewed a woman who had been raped repeatedly by the gang member in charge of her hometown in Honduras, a man who she feared would never face prosecution because he buys off the police. But she and her fellow lawyers were still not prepared for what they encountered that weekend in south Texas.

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“When I initially walked into the room of men to give them their legal-rights orientation, I noticed they all had red eyes,” says Eileen Blessinger, another D.C.-based lawyer with whom the Dulles Justice Group worked at Port Isabel. “I started the orientation and kept receiving the same questions: ‘When will I see my child?’ ‘Will I ever see my child again?’ ‘Do you know where my child is?’ ‘Do you know if my child is OK?’ ‘The president said we can call our kids — why is he lying?’ ”

“I kept asking, ‘Where did you last see your child?’ ” remembers Calderón. “They would tell me, ‘Hielera.’ For the first five interviews, I literally thought Hielera was a place. It wasn’t. Hielera is an ice box. It is a freezer. What they were describing was a large holding room kept at subzero temperatures where they were all held with their children.”

“I saw desperate women hysterically crying, begging senators and congressmembers to help them see their children again,” says Blessinger. “In their desperation, these parents wrote letters to their children, but they didn’t know how to get the letters to them. These letters are some of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. They said, ‘Be strong,’ ‘I love you,’ and ‘Believe in God because He will bring us together again soon.’ ”

Over the course of that weekend, Calderón interviewed more than forty men and women. Each had endured some form of persecution in the town they’d left behind, and all had come to America with their children. None had had any idea that their children would be taken from them, even when the separation actually occurred: They were told that they needed to leave their children while they went through some additional legal processing and that they’d be right back.

“I tire of people telling me, ‘This is a consequence of their actions and they knew it was going to happen,’ ” says Calderón. “They didn’t know it was going to happen. I think it’s supremely inhumane of people to think that way.”

In the days and weeks since they’d been separated, Calderón says, 70 percent of the people she spoke with had had no contact of any kind with their children. The remaining men and women had received a phone call or two, each lasting between one and five minutes. But even most of those parents still did not know where their children were; the only information they were able to obtain was through the children themselves, who, if old enough, could tell their parents what little they’d been able to glean about their surroundings. One of the few women Blessinger encountered who’d spoken with her child told the lawyer that, during her phone call, she could only hear her son crying, “asking why she didn’t love him and why she left him.”

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Blessinger, who spent ten-hour days with the men and women in Port Isabel, says she was so traumatized by what she experienced that she had difficulty sleeping afterward. Upon returning to work, she says, “Someone asked me how I was doing and I just broke down crying. That was pretty much my entire day. If it is this hard for me to recover from being in these circumstances for five days, I don’t know how these parents or children can ever recover.”

Reports now estimate that nearly 3,000 children were separated from their parents in the weeks between April 6 and June 20. Although some of them have since been reunited with their parents — including some of the youngest, who were returned earlier this week — more than 2,000 have yet to be located and returned. Calderón is now representing one of the women she met at Port Isabel, a mother who is lucky enough to know where her child is, with a foster family in Texas.

Now, instead of phoning Calderón to prep for her upcoming interview for asylum, her client is calling to talk about how worried she is about her daughter. She is concerned she’s not happy at the foster family’s; there’s another child there who’s been hitting her. “I’ve called the social worker daily for the last three days,” says Calderón. “No response.” Now she’s worried too.

Categories
Immigration THE FRONT ARCHIVES

‘Continuous Trauma’: What It’s Like for Immigrant Kids Separated From Their Families

What happens to children once they are torn from their parents?

The separation of immigrant families at the U.S. border continues to provoke an outcry. The Trump administration’s decision to detain and criminally prosecute every adult who enters the U.S. without documentation has sent parents directly into the federal penal system, while their children are treated as “unaccompanied minors” and sent to shelters or into foster care. Even after public opposition led Donald Trump to order that families be detained together going forward, more than 2,000 children remain separated from their parents — and the Justice Department said Friday it “can’t commit” to meeting a court-ordered deadline of Tuesday for returning all children under five years old to their parents.

This spring, before the Trump administration announced its “zero tolerance” immigration policy but after it had already begun family separations, our team of scholars studied what happens to unaccompanied immigrant youth who have been separated from their parents. Afterwards, the children are placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which sends them to one of at least 100 facilities scattered across the country, ranging from privately run shelters to temporary government facilities, such as the one in Tornillo, Texas, where children have been seen sleeping in tents at night.

We were particularly concerned about the youngest children aged twelve and under, many of whom are placed by ORR into transitional foster care instead of a shelter. In March, we visited some of these temporary foster care facilities and interviewed twenty staff members who are responsible for them.

The transitional foster program model for unaccompanied immigrant children was created with older children in mind, as a brief stop on the way toward being placed with a sponsor (usually a relative) or a federally licensed foster home. Under the Trump zero tolerance policy, foster families and daytime facilities are instead being confronted with the challenge of caring for infants and very young children; they’ve had to stock diapers for babies, create quiet rooms for napping children, and reallocate program space to accommodate toddlers just learning to walk.

Staff reported to us that separated children arrive at their facilities in a state of shock. Some are traumatized and don’t speak. Some speak a Mayan language that the staff do not understand or are so young they have not learned to express themselves with words. One staff member described what she observed as evidence of “continuous trauma” in children who already have experienced violence and uncertainty in their home countries and en route to the border, only to find themselves unexpectedly taken from their parents once they arrive.

Not surprisingly, the children are often distraught because they miss their parents. Some cry and huddle in the corner when they arrive and show other signs of trauma. Staff members say they do what they can to comfort the children, but as one worker explained to us, these children have been “ripped apart from someone that gave them that sense of comfort, that could read to them, that could easily care for them and help them…where now they’re with strangers who have to relearn that. And it doesn’t matter how trained you are or how kid-friendly you are — even if you speak the same language, even if you understand the culture, it’s still a huge guessing game.”

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Program staff work to arrange regular phone calls between children and their parents in detention. However, tracking down parents and coordinating a call can be difficult, especially when parents can be moved from one federal facility to another without warning, and may not have money to make a call themselves. When they can be arranged, these phone calls are comforting for the children, but providers report that the children and parents are often quickly reduced to tears, with little time to talk — if the child is old enough to be able to communicate verbally at all.

At the same time that they’re trying to keep children connected to their parents, case managers and clinicians must also help them build trust with their transitional foster families and prepare them for what comes next — whether moving to a longer-term sponsor in the U.S. or repatriation. This swirl of possible caregivers can leave the children feeling confused, especially those who are too young to understand.

Some of the children have not seen a doctor or dentist recently — if at all — and case managers work with local providers to ensure they get necessary treatment. But this isn’t an easy process either. The children do not arrive with a medical history, raising lots of questions. Do they have a heart murmur? Are they not eating because they don’t like the food, or because they have a food allergy? Without a parent present to explain their child’s needs, providers must rely on behavioral cues or scraps of information from children in order to know how to help and keep them safe.

Our research highlights that transitional foster care facilities are doing what they can to help these young children who have been forcibly taken from their parents. The staff try to meet the children’s social, emotional, and physical needs. But as they are operating under a program model designed for older children, they are facing stretched budgets as they have to buy things like diapers and baby formula, and are struggling to find foster families willing and able to take in young babies.

These facilities rely heavily on local churches, local health clinics, volunteers, and other community members. Additional funding from ORR would allow them to enhance the quality of the services they are able to provide — especially by increasing the number of full-time staff members, particularly professional mental health providers who have expertise in addressing child trauma.

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But there are many ways that we can provide a more robust system of care for the youngest children placed in transitional foster care. We need more lawyers, pediatricians, social workers, and therapists willing to volunteer their services. If you’re a professional in one of these areas, consider volunteering your time and expertise to a local agency. If you’re bilingual or bicultural, consider becoming a foster parent. You could also volunteer to be a community mentor — making those connections can make all the difference to a child.

There is no question that separating immigrant families violates the basic tenets of U.S. child welfare policy and practice. Transitional foster care — while necessary — is merely a cog in our ever-evolving and dysfunctional immigration system, a necessary programmatic response to a policy-generated problem. Building up a more robust set of supports for these facilities does not mean that separating parents and children at the border is a justifiable practice — but in the meantime, these children and families need all the help they can get.

Categories
Healthcare Immigration Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

’Like Being Inside a 180-Foot Bell‘: A Statue of Liberty Protester Remembers

The dozen-odd members of Rise and Resist who dropped an “ABOLISH I.C.E.” banner from the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal on Wednesday — and the one member who took it upon herself to climb onto the statue itself and announce she wouldn’t leave until “all the children are released” (she lasted nearly three hours until NYPD Emergency Service Unit officers brought her down) — were part of a long tradition of protests at the statue, which as both a symbol of immigrant welcome and the second-tallest female statue in the Americas contains a multitude of symbolism.

In 1970, demonstrators with the National Organization for Women draped a sixty-foot banner from the statue reading “Women of the World Unite!” The following year, members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War spent forty-two hours inside the statue’s crown, festooning it with banners. (VVAW repeated the feat in 1976.) In 1977, Puerto Rican nationalists draped a Puerto Rican flag across the statue’s brow, locking themselves inside for eight hours to call for the release of four independentistas in prison for shooting at members of Congress from a Capitol gallery.

By 1991, the threat of the moment was to abortion rights, as the Supreme Court had ruled in Rust v. Sullivan that the Bush administration could impose its gag rule forbidding women’s health clinics that received Title X family-planning funds from counseling women on abortion. On July 29 of that year, a group of activists with Women’s Health Action and Mobilization (WHAM!) and AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) dropped a pair of banners from the statue, one from the pedestal reading “Abortion Is Healthcare, Healthcare Is a Right” and one from the statue’s crown reading “No Choice, No Liberty.” 

The banners were abducted by national park security, but the activists slipped away unnoticed. In the wake of Wednesday’s protests, two of the 1991 demonstrators shared with the Voice their recollections of the 1991 statue protest, and their thoughts on its spiritual descendants. 

“We were talking about actions we might take in response,” recalls Dana Luciano, at the time a WHAM! activist and currently an English professor at Georgetown University. (Full disclosure: I was also a member of WHAM! at that time.) “And someone said, ‘We should gag the Statue of Liberty!’ It was kind of spontaneous — I don’t think most of us knew, at the time, about the history of protest at the site. I think we just thought that as a high-visibility female figure, the statue would be a good place to stage a feminist action. It was thrilling to learn afterwards that we were part of a much longer history of protest there.”

As it turned out, an ACT UP affinity group called Action Tours — best known for ambushing Dan Rather’s CBS Evening News during the Gulf War with chants of “Fight AIDS, not Arabs!” — had already been scoping out the statue as a site for protest; the two groups soon joined forces. Around 35 people participated at the statue itself, Luciano recalls, with perhaps a dozen more working on press and legal support.

“Early on we’d realized that actually gagging the statue wasn’t feasible, so we decided to drop banners from the crown — the idea being to cover the statue’s face, like a mourning veil — and the base,” she recalls. “It took about three trips to the crown to figure out how to open the windows so we could hang a banner. It was windy up there, so we weighted the bottom of that banner with a heavy chain sewed inside a few layers of fabric so we wouldn’t damage the statue, which would have carried a felony charge.”

On the day of the action, the activists showed up carrying the two large banners, cinder blocks to weigh down the one that would hang from the pedestal, and additional tools. “We get up there and use special hardware to open the windows the way they’re supposed to be opened — no damage was done,” says Jon Winkleman, an Action Tours member at the time. One activist held a helium balloon in front of a security camera to block its view — “it turned out it wasn’t even on,” says Luciano — while others blocked the steps to the crown to buy more time.

“The banner got tangled, so I’m sticking my head out, reaching outside the statue to untangle it,” recalls Winkleman. “And it’s like — oh my god, I’m touching the Statue of Liberty’s nose! Which was the coolest thing in the world.”

One reason the demonstrators had been particularly careful not to break windows or otherwise harm the statue, Winkleman says, is that they had discovered that causing over $2,000 in damages could be considered a felony: “If you do any type of scratch, they can always claim $2,000 worth of damage.” 

“But as soon as we got the banner up, it started blowing around and the chain, despite the wrapping, started banging against the statue,” says Luciano. “Since the statue is made of metal it was like being inside a 180-foot bell — it was kind of terrifying. As we ran down the steps to the base, one of our members shouted, ‘Felony!’ each time it rung. By the time we got to the base, someone had pulled it inside, unnerved, I guess, by the noise.” (The Associated Press credited a Park Service ranger with hauling the banner inside after about five minutes.)

The group that draped the large banner off the pedestal had fewer problems, she recalls — “except that some of them had gift wrapped their cinder blocks to hide them in case their bags were searched, so that delayed things a bit. People looking on were actually pretty excited — some of them started taking pictures. One man asked if they were from Greenpeace.”

Eventually, all the activists joined the crowds of tourists on departing ferries. “We were about to get on the boat, and they grabbed this woman who wasn’t part of us, and they were going to arrest or question her,” says Winkleman. “And then her husband pulls out a badge — he was an off-duty cop.” No arrests were ever made.

Of course, 1991 was a less security-heavy time, when lugging cinder blocks on a ferry to a national monument was less likely to raise eyebrows. At this year’s protest, Luciano notes, everyone was arrested, not just the statue climber.

“With CBS, the moment we did that, they changed their security badges to have a little radio transmitter in it, so you couldn’t fake them,” says Winkleman. CBS staff, he recalls, immediately nicknamed the new cards “ACT UP badges.”

“9-11 definitely had a chilling effect on protest, but the wheels were in motion long before,” Luciano says. “In New York City, for instance, the Giuliani administration was committed to squashing dissent from the beginning. They went after civil disobedience activists especially hard, making sure the arresting officers had them put through the system rather than just giving desk appearance tickets.”

Still, she’s cheered to see that direct action is alive and well despite the heightened security state. “Black Lives Matter, Occupy, Standing Rock — these are and were sustained direct-action movements. Almost 600 women were arrested in D.C. last Thursday in the Senate office building; six senior citizens were arrested Friday for blocking the ICE offices in Philadelphia,” says Luciano. “The woman who climbed the statue yesterday made me remember Bree Newsome, who climbed the South Carolina Capitol to take down the Confederate flag there in 2015.”

And, adds Winkleman, in many ways getting news of a protest out to the public is much easier than it was in 1991, when activists had to hire a helicopter to shoot video of the event. (The weather was bad, and it arrived minutes too late.) “You look at the social media, the live-streaming online that happened yesterday — I wish we had that back then,” he says. “So yeah, things are different: They can’t do what we did back then, but we can’t do what they can do now. And I’m sure some other activists will find a way to do something even more spectacular.”

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NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Sure, Immigrant Kids May Look Innocent, but Who’ll Think of Sarah Huckabee Sanders?

You may have gotten the impression that the immigrant children recently torn from their parents at the Mexican border deserve your sympathy and concern. After all, you can’t help but be moved by the heartrending sounds of the terrified, snatched children, and the horrible stories of their distant removal from their families to be incarcerated or farmed out to Christian adoption agencies, at least if you’re a human being.

If you’re a conservative, though, you know these kids were either faking it or better off without their criminal, probably MS13 parents, and that your real sympathy should go instead to truly persecuted folks like White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Secretary of Homeland Security Kristjen Nielsen, to whom some liberals were impolite.

Tough guy Trump’s notorious treatment of these children led to some negative poll results and some static in the courts, and in response Trump, in his traditional manner, implied immigrants were vermin — then announced he was ending the family separation policy, while still leaving the families he’d torn apart scattered across the landscape.

After the reversal, Trump tried to shore up his racist support by hauling out, as he did during the 2016 GOP Convention, “Angel Families” whose loved ones had been killed by undocumented immigrants to suggest that the children he’d immiserated were potential murderers of white Americans. (“They look so innocent,” Trump had previously said of these kids. “They’re not innocent.”)

Lower-order Trump functionaries in the press, however, had their own weird tactics.

Ann Coulter, for example, declared the crying, traumatized kids to be “child actors” — a reference to a favored trope of the Alex Jones wing of the Republican Party. Tucker Carlson did his blood-and-soil thing: “A lot of people yelling at you on TV don’t even have kids, so don’t for a second let them take moral high ground. Their goal is to change your country forever.”

Others seized on a famous image of a crying immigrant kid that was used in a photo montage on the cover of Time magazine to illustrate a story about immigration; the kid in the picture turned out to have been merely terrified, rather than stolen away, by the feds, and conservatives, pretending (or in some cases just revealing) an infantile literalism, acted as if this debunked the whole issue.

“BOMBSHELL: Girl Never Separated At Border,” hollered Ryan Saavedra at the Daily Wire. “TIME Magazine’s Shocking Cover Is A Total Lie,” cried his editor, Ben Shapiro. “No Wonder Americans Don’t Trust The Media.” Shapiro also reported that the photo had been “used by various human rights groups to raise cash for their anti-Trump efforts.” Guess they’ll have to give the money back!

“The Media Isn’t Credible on Immigration,” decreed Rich Lowry of National Review. “SHOCKER, A Lie,” hollered Brandon Morse of RedState.

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Time later acknowledged the child in the montage had not been stolen, but that wasn’t enough for Rick Moran of American Thinker. When John Moore, the photographer who took the kid’s picture and later alerted Time to its provenance, explained that he’d been horrified by the scene he’d recorded — “I had to stop and take deep breaths” — but didn’t know for sure whether the child had been taken, Moran scoffed: “Heart rending, isn’t it? It would seem that Moore was forced to change his story once his fakery was discovered.” Apparently Moran can’t believe anyone would react that way to a child in distress; knowing Moran’s work, I’m not shocked.

Moran also thought “most people” who saw the photo montage would think “she had been ripped from her mothers arms — maybe even by Trump himself who towered over the child with a stern look on his face.” If you had Moran’s readers, you might think that, too.

Some conservatives took this weirdly further and acted as if crying children, if they were of the wrong color and immigration status, were simply hilarious. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski reacted to news of a disabled child’s separation with a comedy sound effect. Others put up pictures of children crying in less dire circumstances and made snotty remarks. “Here are pictures of the government ripping apart mothers and children on the first day of school,” quipped Seth Barron of City Journal. “The psychological trauma could last forever.” Ben Shapiro posted a picture of a crying kid at a baseball game and added, “I can’t believe this crying child was separated from his parents by President Trump.” These are the jokes, kid!

Other Trumpkins tried their own comedy stylings. At the Stream, John Zmirak suggested authorities “Seize Ivy League Dorms and Give Them to Immigrant Families” — liberals are immigrant-lovers, see, so here’s the gag: Imagine refugees seated for dinner in a “glorious Gothic dining hall, with sixty-foot carved ceilings and iron candelabras” while being served by SJW students. Ha! It’s like the impudence of the newly liberated slaves in Birth of a Nation, only it’s OK to laugh because this time the white people win!

Alas, among them only David Brooks managed to actually be funny: “The Trump administration immigration officials,” he wrote, “have become exactly the kind of monsters that conservatism has always warned against.” That’s comedy gold, Davey!

Andrew Sullivan sought at New York magazine to snatch racist victory from the jaws of defeat. Sullivan cautioned the liberals who for some reason still read him not to “think of the last week as a solid victory for the Democrats and for basic human decency,” because Trump’s just going to switch back anyway — and besides, lots of foreign darkskins are waiting to occupy America and who knows how they’d score on Charles Murray’s IQ tests — so Democrats should just “give him his fucking wall. He won the election. He is owed this. It may never be completed; it may not work, as hoped. But it is now the only way to reassure a critical mass of Americans that mass immigration is under control…”

If you wonder what Sullivan meant by “critical mass,” he added, “until the white working and middle classes are reassured, we will get nowhere.” True, nonwhite working and middle classes may not be on board; but really, who cares what they think? [Makes, like Uma Thurman tracing a square in the air in Pulp Fiction, a bell-curve shape with his fingers.]

Perhaps motivated by Trump’s pullback to find a new angle, the brethren redirected their energies from denouncing tormented immigrants to defending members of the Trump administration who’d been subjected to rude treatment for their part in tormenting them.

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Take Kirstjen Nielsen, She-Wolf of the Department of Homeland Security. Her press conference on the controversy set new standards for official lying and number-fudging — no mean feat in this administration! — portraying the policy put in place by Trump’s own Justice Department as the fault of Congress.

On Wednesday, as Nielsen enjoyed a meal at a Mexican restaurant (chosen, I assume, as some sort of ghoulish victory ritual), she was harassed by a bunch of protestors and had to leave. Here, conservatives said, was a real outrage!

“Temporarily separating children at border: literally Auschwitz. Normalizing mob violence against political opponents, which is literally a fascist trait: totally awesome,” tweeted Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, whom I am told is some sort of intellectual, which may explain why he got this exactly backward.

“Maoist America: Screaming Leftists Force DHS Sec. Nielsen to Leave DC Restaurant,” wrote the Gateway Pundit. “PUNDITS, ACTIVISTS CELEBRATE HARASSMENT OF FEMALE DHS SECRETARY,” announced the Daily Caller. You liberals claim to support females!

“Protesters Surround DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s Home,” cried Breitbart. Wow — were they chanting “Get out of Jeh Johnson’s House“?

Some of the brethren tried racism jujitsu. When CNN’s Ana Navarro joked, “Are there no Norwegian restaurants in Washington, DC?” the Washington Examiner’s Byron York gasped, “CNN’s @ananavarro suggests Nielsen, a Florida native, should stick to her own ethnicity in choosing restaurants.” “CNN Analyst Wants Her to Eat With Only Her Race,” said Ben Marquis at Conservative Tribune. White people can’t catch a break in this country!

Then on Friday night White House spokesliar Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who distinguished herself in this mess by doing the old What About Non-Immigrant Children Huh routine, got asked to leave Virginia restaurant the Red Hen where she’d planned to dine because the owner didn’t want to serve her, and the brethren really went crazy. True, Nielsen is a cabinet secretary and extremely white, but Sanders, as the daughter of a prominent, racist GOP ex-governor, is peckerwood royalty.

Using her official Twitter account, Sanders told the world, and the troops responded. Some obligingly offered to burn down the restaurant, but others merely adopted the hurt tone familiar to all of us who have over the years watched conservatives mood-swing back and forth between delusions of grandeur and persecution mania.

“I guess we’re heading into an America with Democrat-only restaurants, which will lead to Republican-only restaurants,” blubbered former Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who did more than most to deceive America into the Iraq War.

“It is actually a sign of sickness in our country that political opposites cheer/jeer a business refusing service due to political beliefs.… It’s another step down a path towards real separation,” wept ex-CNN pundit Erick Erickson, who has called Supreme Court Justice David Souter a “goat fucking child molester,” among other such bons mots.

“Nastiness reflects desperation not strength. They can’t win the argument so they use nastiness,” said — get this!Newt Gingrich.

“I wonder how things might have gone if [the Red Hen’s owner] had asked Sanders for a private word after dinner,” said Rod Dreher of the American Conservative, “or had sent over a round of dessert, and come by the table to talk.” What a great idea! As White House reporters can tell you, Sanders is known for her respectful exchange of views with those she considers her inferiors, e.g., everybody.

Dreher also seemed to think White House press secretaries are of a protected class under civil rights law like African Americans: “Masterpiece [Cakeshop] did not try to deny service across the board to gay customers.… Red Hen denied service across the board to Sanders and her party because they hate her politics.” Similar misapprehensions, real or pretended, were circulated by other conservatives like Byron York. “Should a Trump staffer have even a moment’s peace?” he asked wistfully. “Should a landlord rent to him? A restaurant serve him? A store sell to him?” Hath not a hack lies? If you bleed him, is he not a prick?

The civility brigade was joined, as you would expect, by the big mainstream media types. “Let the Trump team eat in peace,” virtue-signaled the Washington Post editorial board, which found it all very counterproductive, notwithstanding that protestors “will get no argument from us regarding Mr. Trump’s border policy, and when it comes to coarsening the debate, he is the prime offender.” But when they go low, we go high, right? That’s how we almost won in 2016!

And if that didn’t convince, the Post gently threatened: “Those who are insisting that we are in a special moment justifying incivility should think for a moment how many Americans might find their own special moment. How hard is it to imagine, for example, people who strongly believe that abortion is murder deciding that judges or other officials who protect abortion rights should not be able to live peaceably with their families?”

Sounds like the Post has never talked to a clinic escort, nor heard of George Tiller or Robert Lewis Dear Jr. But the Post needn’t worry: The chances that harassment of Trump officials will spread is slim, and in any case it will never match the harassment that people with far less privilege — like little girls selling water or grown people just doing their jobs — endure every day. So by all means, Trumpkins, enjoy your snotchos!

Categories
Immigration THE FRONT ARCHIVES

New Yorkers Fight to Aid Child Victims of Trump’s Family Separation Policy

On Thursday night, across the street from rows of garbage trucks parked under Metro-North train tracks, more than a hundred New Yorkers gathered for a silent vigil outside the headquarters of Cayuga Centers, a nonprofit foster care agency in Harlem.

Currently in the care of centers run by the agency in New York State are at least 239 unaccompanied immigrant children who were separated from their parents at the southern U.S. border by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Holding signs with such slogans as “Reunite the children with their parents” and “We are disgusted and upset,” the demonstrators lit candles and arranged dozens of child-sized shoes on a blanket laid out on the sidewalk.

“We are here to protect the children who were placed in our community — unannounced, and without the consent of their parents — and to give them all the love that we can, by monitoring what is happening to them,” Queen Mother Dr. Delois Blakely, a local activist and honorary mayor of Harlem, told the Voice.

The vigil was among many mobilizations that were held in the city after news broke on Wednesday that, over the past few weeks, hundreds of unaccompanied immigrant children have been quietly sent to New York after being taken from their parents. Of an estimated 700 separated children in New York, some 350 have come through Cayuga Centers, one of several social service agencies in the state that the federal government contracts with to take in unaccompanied minors. According to Mayor de Blasio, these children include a nine-year-old boy from Honduras who traveled alone on a bus from Texas, as well as a nine-month-old baby.

Federal authorities never notified de Blasio that these children had arrived in New York. City officials only learned of the situation this week, after a relative of a Honduran child asked a friend to contact the mayor. City Hall still lacks critical information about the children being held in New York: exactly how many of them are here, their names and ages, their countries of origin, and the whereabouts of their parents. According to a spokesperson for City Councilmember Mark Levine, who represents the Harlem district where Cayuga Centers is located, the children are staying at various residential centers run by nonprofit agencies, including Cayuga, which is not itself a residential facility but provides daily social services for the children.

“How is the federal government holding back that information from the people of this city and holding back the help these kids could need?” De Blasio asked at a press conference on Wednesday.

“What will happen to these 300-plus kids in the next few months is a total unknown,” Councilmember Levine told the Voice. “It’s quite frightening. We have never dealt with a situation of this scale in our district. What’s arriving here today is really unprecedented for us.”

***

After massive public outcry, President Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday that claims to prevent additional immigrant families from being torn apart. But the Trump administration has not announced any concrete plans to reunite the thousands of families who have already been separated: More than 2,300 separated children are still scattered across the country, and federal officials reportedly have no reliable system for keeping track of which children belong to which parents, some of whom are imprisoned and some of whom have already been deported. Instead, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement is seeking to place the children in temporary foster homes, while the Pentagon assesses how it might house as many as 20,000 unaccompanied migrant children on military bases.

New Yorkers are mobilizing in the face of this crisis. On Wednesday evening, Spanish speakers attended an information session at Cayuga Centers about how to apply to become foster parents for separated children in New York. At LaGuardia Airport, a crowd of hundreds demonstrated during the arrival of what appeared to be a group of unaccompanied immigrant boys arriving on a plane from Texas. Levine’s office put out a call for donations of supplies in an effort “to make sure that the 239 children in NYC do not want for material needs.”

By noon on Thursday, the councilmember’s district office was filled with shopping bags full of donated clothes, diapers, teething rings, shampoo, blankets, teddy bears, Pedialyte popsicles, and a collection of drawings with messages of support made by kids at a nearby school. The agencies working with the refugee children — including Abbott House, a foster care center that’s currently housing some of them — have since told the councilmember’s office that they can no longer handle additional physical contributions. Levine is now encouraging people to make financial donations to the nonprofit organizations attempting to support the children, such as the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights.

“We have been flooded with generosity,” Levine said. “Our office is rapidly filling up and our phones are ringing off the hook. This is a very, very tough situation, and we don’t want to be blind to the need to fight politically to reunite these kids with their families, but I’m really heartened by the way New Yorkers are responding. It gives me a lot of hope that our society will get beyond the cruel policies that have put these kids in this terrible position.”

While many are similarly heartened by the local response, vigils and donations can only do so much. Obstacles to providing more substantive relief and reunification for separated families have so far proved insurmountable. Even seasoned politicians and established activist organizations appear to be at a loss for how to change that.

As Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday, the federal government has “essentially gagged the facilities” operating in New York and prohibited the state from providing medical or mental-health services for the children. “If we want to provide any services to the children, we’d have to go through the federal government and it’s a protracted process that would take weeks,” Cuomo said. “Why the federal government would want to be in a position to stop a state from offering mental health services, support services, for young children suffering trauma just adds further insult to further injury.”

Mayor de Blasio said that some of the children who come to Cayuga Centers daily for classes and social services have bed bugs, lice, chicken pox, and other contagious diseases. At least twelve of the children have been treated in local emergency rooms.

Hundreds of professional attorneys, doctors, teachers, and social workers have contacted Levine’s office with offers to volunteer, but if state officials are having trouble getting the clearance required to provide aid, members of the public likely will, too. Levine’s office is compiling a list of professionals who have offered to help, and plans to contact them if and when opportunities arise.

Some activists have expressed concern that the news of Trump’s executive order will give people the mistaken impression that the issue has been resolved. They emphasize that public action is still urgently necessary.

“We need to make sure that this kind of public support doesn’t only happen when there’s a crisis in the news,” said Natalia Aristizabal, co-director of organizing at Make the Road New York, a nonprofit group that helped plan Thursday’s rally at LaGuardia. “It’s definitely been inspiring to see this response, but we need people to do more. And that ‘more’ doesn’t always mean working directly with an immigrant. It can mean working with your own family to make sure they’re understanding of this issue. It means humanizing the parents of these children, and showing support for immigrant communities across the board.”

***

Such support was not universally expressed at Thursday’s vigil. Dionn Apuzzo, 67, a former employee of Puerto Rico’s Coast Guard who lives in Harlem, stood beside a cop at the edge of the candle-holding crowd, shaking her head.

“America is going down the drain,” Apuzzo told the Voice. “Yes, I voted for Trump, and I’ll vote for him again. I think the president’s doing the right thing. America has to start looking out for Americans. We don’t need more people here. Everyone wants to come here for free meals, free everything. Enough. If you want to come here, come legally, like my father did from Italy, and my mom from Puerto Rico, in the Fifties. And why is no one helping Puerto Rico? Oh, and make sure you write about the guy with the ‘Fuck America’ sign. He’s a disgrace.”

“America is a disgrace,” replied a man from the crowd. “Children are in jail.”

“I love this country,” Apuzzo retorted. “And New York City is the best city. You get help here. If you need it, they’ll help you.”

A man wearing tie-dye who had previously been arguing with Apuzzo said, “I agree.”

After the vigil, demonstrators packed up banners that read “Welcome, Children and Parents, We Love You” in English and Spanish. A few headed downtown to spend the night camping outside of 201 Varick Street, where an ICE detention center is located. Earlier that day, dozens of parents and their babies had flooded the New York offices of ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, as hordes of cyclists riding with the group Bikes Against Deportation blocked the doors of the Varick Street building.

Levine insists that no one should feel powerless to help.

“The fact that Trump reversed himself so dramatically on Wednesday was the result of activism,” Levine said. “Nothing else made him do that. He didn’t have a moral epiphany. He was responding to pressure from the public — from activists and regular people who forced even Republicans to start speaking out against the separation of families. I think the lesson we should take from this is that we have to ramp up the pressure even further, because this crisis is not over.”