Shoutrage at Refugee Family Detention Camps

We interrupt this stream of semi-wonkish posts to bring you a burst of shoutrage — a coined word I’ve been looking for an occasion to use ever since I found it nearly a year ago in The New York Times Sunday magazine.

The magazine has now provided the occasion — an intensively-researched story about “the shame of America’s detention camps.” If you haven’t read it, you truly should, unless you want to spare yourself a sense of outrage and a sinking feeling that shouting about it won’t spur the reforms needed to end the shame.

A brief overview nonetheless so you’ll see what you’re in for — and why I felt compelled to veer from my usual topics.

The shameful detention camps are where our federal government is holding hundreds of families who’ve come to this country seeking refuge from death threats, rape (threatened and committed) and other violence perpetrated by gangs in several Central American countries.

They’re packed into these facilities, sometimes eight to a room. Needless to say, communicable diseases spread. This is especially the case because many children won’t eat the food that’s served — at least in part because it’s so different from what they’re used to.

“The first time I went in,” said a paralegal, “all I could hear was a symphony of coughing and sneezing and crying and wailing.”

Children who aren’t too young or too debilitated to benefit from education don’t get regular schooling, though they’re legally entitled to it, as well as medical care, exercise and housing in “the least restrictive environment possible.”

The families are held in the detention camps until they can get a hearing to determine whether a further hearing might find they are indeed refugees eligible to remain in this country. They’ve no attorneys to represent them, unless they’re one of the relative few whom volunteers can serve.

The rest, of course, have no idea how to answer the judge’s questions so as to ping the legal criteria. And they’ve got to ping them quickly because judges swift them through the process. Those who luck out may not know they have because only the judge’s questions are translated.

Most who are in the hearing room on their own don’t luck out. One judge reportedly has denied an average of 91.6% of asylum requests.

Children sent back to Honduras “just return to die,” said a morgue operator there. And that’s true not only for Honduras. Ten children were killed after the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency flew them back to El Salvador.

What’s become of the parents who were shipped back is perhaps unknowable. But it’s clear that families who’ve asked our government for a chance to live safely are routinely denied due process in what are effectively death penalty cases.

My late husband Jesse and I had an expression we’d use when talking, as we so often did, about policies that distressed us. “Bad Rs.” I’d like to say that now, but I can’t.

True, lead Republicans in Congress have said they won’t do anything to reform our outdated immigration system until our borders are secure — and the President is enforcing the existing laws, as they understand them.

Also true that they made a huge deal about all those Central American children crossing the border and blamed the President because he’d allowed some children who were already in this country to remain.

And it was the Bush administration that first claimed it wasn’t legally bound by a long-standing court settlement to favor release over incarceration whenever refugee children were involved. Only, it said, when they weren’t accompanied by parents.

But it was the Obama administration that made the same argument — earning a smack-down from the judge, as the Bush administration had.

It’s the Obama administration that decided to resume detention as a routine response to families seeking refuge. It’s the Obama administration that’s running the camps, overseeing the court system and shipping thousands back to dangers they’d fled.

“Our message to this group is simple,” the Secretary of Homeland Security testified last July. “We will send you back.” No evident concern about to what.

One infers from the Times story that the ICE doesn’t much like those volunteer attorney/advocates gumming up the wheels of injustice — nor journalists investigating the camps.

Neither a lead attorney nor the correspondent who wrote the story could get permission to tour the camp where they’d temporarily settled in. The latter cites two related instances when ICE basically stonewalled questions about the school issue.

Well, a fair amount of the shameful business is public now, including angles I haven’t even touched on. One would like to think there’d be shoutrage where it would make a difference. Not holding my breath.

UPDATE: Now there’s a ray of hope for some of the detained families. You can learn about it here.

2 Responses to Shoutrage at Refugee Family Detention Camps

  1. […] I published my post on our government’s detention camps, I discovered that a federal court had recently issued a […]

  2. […] you recall my post on the detention centers that the immigration authorities are warehousing immigrant families in. Or […]

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