By Gabe Ortiz / Daily Kos
Hundreds of pages of sworn affidavits and court documents from forcibly separated migrant parents, immigration attorneys, immigrant rights groups and others reveal intentional cruelty, neglect, and chaos behind the Trump administration’s barbaric “zero tolerance” policy that has torn thousands of children from families at the U.S./Mexico border.
Over the past several weeks, officials have made it increasingly difficult for elected leaders and media to access both detention facilities and detained families. U.S. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, among the first to attempt to access a children’s detention facility in Texas, was asked to leave the property. Scanning the pages of court documents, some tweeted by reporter Adam Klasfeld, gives an insight into why.
Angelica Rebeca Gonzalez-Garcia came to the U.S. on May 9 with her nine-year-old daughter, fleeing domestic violence in Guatemala. While Angelica was released on June 19, her daughter continues to be detained at a facility in Texas. In her declaration, the mother described being pressured into signing documents at the threat of having her daughter taken away, which they did anyway. But then, there was also the humiliation from by border officials.
“In Guatemala do they celebrate Mother’s Day?” she says they asked her. “When I answered yes he said, ‘then Happy Mother’s Day’ because the next Sunday was Mother’s Day. I lowered my head so that my daughter would not see the tears forming in my eyes.”
“That particular act of cruelty astonished me then as it does now,” she continued. “I could not understand why they hated me so much or wanted to hurt me so much,” Angelica said her daughter was taken from her the next day. She and other mothers separated from their children “sat next to each other in the cell and cried together and asked God to give us strength.”
“I entered the United States on May 14, in Reynoso,” said Nery Flores-Oliva, who fled her home country with her six-year-old after her husband’s two brothers were murdered. “I was picked up and taken to the ‘icebox,’ a cold room. They treated us badly. My son was with me. The following day the officer told me that they were going to take my son to shower and they sent me somewhere else and they never returned with my son. I felt deceived. I never saw him again. I only ask that I be reunited with my son. He is young. He needs me.”
More than 2,300 children have been forcibly separated from parents in recent weeks. Under the judge’s order, the Trump administration must reunite children under five years old by July 10, all children by July 26, and connect all children with their parents via telephone today, July 6. But some ORR officials, “the division within [Health and Human Services] HHS that oversees the care of unaccompanied children, have received no instructions on how to proceed.”
Other documents reveal the vast extent to which the government as been kidnapping children. While Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III officially announced the “zero tolerance” policy in May, the administration was separating families for months before. Olivia Caceres and her family fled violence in El Salvador at presented themselves at the San Ysidro Port of Entry late last year, a legal act under U.S. and international law. Yet, her son, “M,” was taken away for 85 days.
Olivia said that when she finally got her son back—she also alleged officials repeatedly doubted the authenticity of the numerous documents she had to prove she was his parent—he “looked scared, he looked absent, he did not seem to capture that he was with me. He would only stare.”
“When we got to the car,” she continued, “M. started crying and screaming. He seemed really scared. He continued to cry when we got home and would hold on to my leg and would not let me go.” Just as horrifically, the boy was filthy. He had been neglected in government custody. “When I took off his clothes he was full of dirt and lice. It seemed like they had not bathed him the 85 days he was away from us.”
The government’s actions are no doubt traumatizing an entire generation of children. “I cannot forget the first night after we were reunited,” Claudia continued. “He cried the moment we got to the bed and refused to sleep. He finally fell asleep from exhaustion but he only slept on my chest. When I tried to put him on the bed he would cry again.”
The documents also reveal a bureaucratic mess that is treating biological parents attempting to get their children back as if they’re anything but their biological parents.
“The separated mothers and fathers that have arrived at Annunciation House recently are struggling to navigate ORR’s reunification paperwork,” said Taylor Levy, legal coordinator for the border non-profit. “They are being treated as new ORR sponsors—subject to a host of paperwork and procedural hoops—rather than the acknowledged parents of their children.”
“Their social workers are insisting that they would need to file all the Family Reunification paperwork and come up with airfare for their children and ORR escorts before they would see their children again,” he continued. “All of these parents are deeply worried about the ORR process taking too long and being overly cumbersome, especially given their emotional states and long periods of separation.”
“The officer kept saying that I wasn’t my daughter’s mother,” said Doris Arriagga-Pineda, one woman accused of not being her child’s actual parent. Doris and six-year-old Erika fled an abusive household and came to the U.S. on May 20. While Doris was appearing before an immigration judge, Erika was taken away.
“What worries me the most about my daughter is the separation,” Doris said. “She has never been separated from me. It is difficult for her to eat. She always cries. The day I called, she couldn’t speak. My life is my daughter.”