Monday, July 9, 2018

The Dispossessed

While CNN and BBC focus almost exclusively on the 12 Thai boys and their coach being led out of the water-logged caverns of Chiang Rai, little progress is being made in reuniting over 2000 displaced children with their parents. 

The Trump administration has been slow to meet a court order to return all these displaced children by July 26, claiming they don't have enough information.  DNA tests have ensued in an effort to match families, but the problem is that many parents have already been deported and it will be difficult to get these tests done. 

ACLU lawyers say the US government is trying to extort some parents by making them give up their asylum claims in return for their children, adding another pernicious layer to this very ugly drama.  These kids are spread out through the entire country, as US officials didn't have enough space in their detention facilities along the border to house them.  Many of these kids find themselves in Christian foster homes, with additional reports that parents are having to confirm they are Christian before getting their kids back.  It's a lucrative business with the government paying as much as $700 per night to house these children.

With no plan in place before or during this fiasco, the Trump administration is scrambling to reunite these families in an effort to save some kind of face in a crisis it manufactured.  There was no reason to split these families in the first place, but this administration thought it would serve as a deterrent, not foreseeing the legal efforts that would be made on the behalf of the parents to get their kids back.  It's like they saw the immigrants as cattle that could be sorted into lots and no one would care.

Many came peacefully seeking asylum, only to find themselves detained at the border.  A process that would normally be treated with civility.  However, this administration made no distinction between asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, denying them their rights, and subsequently having to face lawsuits filed by the ACLU and other legal organizations on behalf of these detained families.

The administration is now resorting to DNA tests to reunite families, which also serve as a handy way to identify these kids and parents should they ever try to seek entry again.

It really makes you wonder how our country could stoop this low.  The only thing saving the Trump administration at this point is that so much attention is focused on the rescue of the Thai boys that the news media is barely covering the story.  But, after the kids have been evacuated from the caverns, the focus will shift once again onto the US-Mexico border where a far greater drama is being played out.

Heads should roll.  Most notably Kirstjen Nielsen, who has been overseeing this fiasco from her perch as Secretary of Homeland Security.  Jefferson Beauregard Sessions will also find himself under much greater scrutiny as a result of his zero tolerance policy that resulted in this crisis.  ICE may find itself on the chopping block as a result of their extralegal activities.  But, will it do any good when the root of the problem lies at the top in a president who actively condoned these activities until public pressure forced him to rescind his executive order?

It's not just these illegal separations.  The Trump administration is flushing immigrants out of the military, and is even questioning the legality of recently naturalized citizens, and is seeking to denaturalize those it determines lied on their applications.  It is part of a broad crack down on immigration that threatens tens of thousands of persons who have been living legally in the United States for decades, not just those who have been doing so illegally.  The Trump administration has already broken apart families as a result of these harsh policies.

It's understandable the media took a break from this ongoing crisis to cover the trapped Thai young footballers.  It's the kind of story that viewers love to watch unfold, as it has a clear beginning, middle and end.  Not so with the families ripped apart at the US border.  It will take months to reach a conclusion to this crisis, if any conclusion is reached at all.

We hear the horror stories: a 14-month old boy returned to his mother covered in dirt and lice because no one thought to bathe him the 85 days he spent in a detention facility, among many other similar cases filed in a 1000-page report.  The trauma is unimaginable, but such stories help bring the enormity of the crisis home.  The US government finds itself in the same position as the Turpin parents having to defend the indefensible.

The Trump administration will claim that many of these kids came unaccompanied, foisting the blame on their parents, rather than admitting to their own heinous policy.  This is how it is being played in the conservative media, which acts as a propaganda arm of the Trump administration.  Yet, the records speak for themselves, with the Department of Homeland Security admitting to 1995 forced separations.  So, even if we accept the other 500 kids as unaccompanied, that's only 20 per cent of the total number of officially reported detained children in the last several months.

The television media has focused far more extensively on the plight of the 12 Thai kids trapped in a flooded cave, replete with cut-away sections of the cave and other visualizations, than they have the plight of these kids trapped in the American legal system.  Why haven't they similarly tracked down the whereabouts of these 2500 children, as has been the case in the print media?  They could be helping to reunite the families instead of treating the story as an ongoing reality show in a brief hiatus.

Most of the work is being done at the grassroots level with thousands of volunteers scouring the country in search of these kids, and acting as a conduit to their bereaved parents.  It's just appalling the way this administration has handled the crisis, but it is in under-reported rallies throughout the country that we see condemnation of this heinous policy, while CNN brings in talking heads to debate the issue.  Until some of these kids start speaking for themselves, as was the case with the Parkland teenagers in the wake of a school shooting, the television media continues to treat this crisis as faceless.

The Trump administration knows Americans have a more difficult time grasping abstract issues.  As long as these illegal immigrants and asylum seekers are viewed as a mass or swarm, there is no way to identify with them, as we are currently doing with the Thai kids.  It is time to give these detained children and their parents a face!

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