Monday, October 15, 2018

Trump's Homeland Security Dupes Children Into Signing Away Their Rights

Helen, a five-year-old from Honduras, was detained after the Trump Administration announced
that it would halt the separation of immigrant families.
The Republican Party that I belonged to years ago, in my view, believed in right and wrong and one of the things that a decent person would never do is harm a small child or deliberately take away a child's legal rights.  But that is not the Republican Party of today with Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenf├╝hrer at its head.   Tricking a child so that the child forfeits rights and suffers a cruel family separation is all in a days work for the Trump/Pence regime.  What I find most disturbing is the number of people - including some "friends" who pretend to be decent moral people are just fine and dandy with such ruthless cruelty.  They would never want their own children or grandchildren to be treated this way, but seemingly, if the child in question has black or brown skin, then anything goes. How these people live with themselves is something I cannot grasp (hopefully, I never will).  A piece in The New Yorker looks at the case of "Helen" a five year old from Honduras - the country of my mother's birth - who without any adult advocate was tricked into signing away her rights and who, as a result, ended up separated for many months from family members.  Helen's case is not an exception and some children have yet to be reunited with their families.  You would expect something like this in Nazi Germany or Bolshevik Russia, but not in America.  Here are story highlights: 
Helen—a smart, cheerful five-year-old girl—is an asylum seeker from Honduras. . . . In July, Helen fled Honduras with her grandmother, Noehmi, and several other relatives; gangs had threatened Noehmi’s teen-age son, Christian, and the family no longer felt safe. Helen’s mother, Jeny, had migrated to Texas four years earlier, and Noehmi planned to seek legal refuge there. With Noehmi’s help, Helen travelled thousands of miles, sometimes on foot, and frequently fell behind the group.
When the family reached the scrubland of southern Texas, U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended them and moved them through a series of detention centers. A month earlier, the Trump Administration had announced, amid public outcry over its systemic separation of migrant families at the border, that it would halt the practice. But, at a packed processing hub, Christian was taken from Noehmi and placed in a cage with toddlers. Noehmi remained in a cold holding cell, clutching Helen. Soon, she recalled, a plainclolothes official arrived and informed her that she and Helen would be separated. “No!” Noehmi cried. “The girl is under my care! Please!”
Noehmi said that the official told her, “Don’t make things too difficult,” and pulled Helen from her arms. “The girl will stay here,” he said, “and you’ll be deported.” . . . . the authorities explaining that Helen’s mother would be able to retrieve her, soon, from wherever they were taking her.
Later that day, Noehmi and Christian were reunited. The adults in the family were fitted with electronic ankle bracelets and all were released, pending court dates. They left the detention center and rushed to Jeny’s house, in McAllen, hoping to find Helen there. When they didn’t, Noehmi began to shake, struggling to explain the situation. “Immigration took your daughter,” she told Jeny.
The next day, authorities—likely from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (O.R.R.)—called to say that they were holding Helen at a shelter near Houston; according to Noehmi, they wouldn’t say exactly where. . . . Helen had been brought to Baytown, a shelter run by Baptist Child & Family Services, which the federal government had contracted to house unaccompanied minors.
According to a long-standing legal precedent known as the Flores settlement, which established guidelines for keeping children in immigration detention, Helen had a right to a bond hearing before a judge; that hearing would have likely hastened her release from government custody and her return to her family. At the time of her apprehension, in fact, Helen checked a box on a line that read, “I do request an immigration judge,” asserting her legal right to have her custody reviewed. But, in early August, an unknown official handed Helen a legal document, a “Request for a Flores Bond Hearing,” which described a set of legal proceedings and rights that would have been difficult for Helen to comprehend. (“In a Flores bond hearing, an immigration judge reviews your case to determine whether you pose a danger to the community,” the document began.) On Helen’s form, which was filled out with assistance from officials, there is a checked box next to a line that says, “I withdraw my previous request for a Flores bond hearing.” Beneath that line, the five-year-old signed her name in wobbly letters.
As the summer progressed with no signs of Helen’s return, Noehmi and Jeny contacted LUPE, a nonprofit community union based in the Rio Grande Valley, to ask for help winning Helen’s release. . . . Tania Chavez, a strategy leader for the organization, met with the family to hear their story.
As Chavez saw it, the girl’s seizure by the government showed that the family-separation crisis hadn’t been resolved, as many Americans believed—it had simply evolved.
Now stage three has commenced—one in which separations are done quietly, LUPE’s Tania Chavez asserts, and in which reunifications can be mysteriously stymied. According to recent Department of Justice numbers—released because of an ongoing A.C.L.U. lawsuit challenging family separations—a hundred and thirty-six children who fall within the lawsuit’s scope are still in government custody. An uncounted number of separated children in shelters and foster care fall outside the lawsuit’s current purview—including many like Helen, who arrived with a grandparent or other guardian, rather than with a parent. Many such children have been misclassified, in government paperwork, as “unaccompanied minors,” due to a sloppy process that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General recently critiqued.
[M]any kids have largely disappeared from public view, and from official statistics, with the federal government showing little urgency to hasten reunifications. (O.R.R. and U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to requests for comment.)
Noehmi and Jeny connected with LUPE’s newly hired attorney, Eugene Delgado. . . . He agreed to represent Noehmi and her family, and at the summer’s end he went with them to court to represent them in removal proceedings. There, a judge granted Noehmi and her relatives more time to apply for asylum. Toward the end of the hearing, Delgado brought up Helen.
“Judge, this case doesn’t stop here,” Delgado said. “What about the little child lost in the system?” The judge looked confused. “What do you mean?” he asked. “Well, where is Helen, the five-year-old?”
The judge, Delgado recalled, seemed startled. Both he and the government prosecutor had no idea that Helen existed, let alone where she was being held. “I could give you a couple of phone numbers to call?” the prosecutor offered.
Delgado began the search. “It was just a complete maze, trying to trace the girl down,” he recalled. “I talked to at least ten people—case workers, social workers.” Eventually, he learned of Helen’s placement in Baytown, the Houston shelter. After that, Noehmi and Jeny were allowed two ten-minute calls with Helen per week, during which the girl often pleaded, “Come get me, Grandma!” The government collected fingerprints and other information from Noehmi and Jeny, to determine whether they were Helen’s rightful guardians; the Office of Refugee Resettlement soon deemed Jeny a fit sponsor, Delgado told me, but the completion of Noehmi’s background check was delayed for unexplained reasons.
On August 17th, Helen was transferred to a foster home in San Antonio. “I feared, did they give Helen away?” Noehmi told me; she worried about the prospect of adoption.
Chavez had found, in these cases, that authorities sometimes responded to public pressure; she’d never tried this in family-separation cases, but it seemed worth a shot. Chavez reached out to Alida Garcia, the vice-president of advocacy for the group, and Jess Morales Rocketto, the chair of an alliance known as Families Belong Together. These teams worked together to craft a national social-media campaign, using Helen’s O.R.R. case-file photograph: an image that eerily resembled a cherub-cheeked mug shot. On August 31st, they began to circulate a petition addressing the O.R.R. official in charge of Helen’s case. “By that Friday, we already had six hundred signatures,” Chavez said. Right away, they began receiving calls from O.R.R., promising that Helen would be returned to her family as soon as possible.
On September 7th, LUPE was told that Helen would finally be released, nearly two months after she was taken from Noehmi.
Soon after, the shelter sent a small black backpack that Helen had left behind. It held Helen’s legal paperwork, including the document that the five-year-old had been told to sign, withdrawing her request to see a judge. The backpack also held Helen’s colored sketch of Lady Liberty. Beneath the statue’s image, a lesson summary, in Spanish, read, “Objective: That the students draw one of the most representative symbols of the United States.”
Last Thursday, Helen’s family held another party, with cake and more princess gear, to celebrate the reunion and to thank the advocacy groups that helped make it happen.
“One of the things Helen’s story really showed us is that the Trump Administration never stopped separating children from their families,” Morales Rocketto said. “In fact, they’ve doubled down, but it’s even more insidious now, because they are doing it in the cover of night.” She added, “We believe that there are more kids like Helen. We have learned we cannot take this Administration at their word.”
Read the full piece for more details.  Ask yourself if you'd want your child or grandchild treated this way?  Frankly, I wouldn't treat a dog this way much less a small child. If this story disturbs you, take the first step in ending such stories: vote Democrat on November 6, 2018, for every office possible.  If this story doesn't disturb you, then do the rest of us a favor and stop pretending that you are a good Christian because you clearly are not.

1 comment:

Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Oh for fuck's sake. When you think Cheeto and the Repugs have reached rock bottom....