At SOTU, Dem. Reps. Wear Pins Of A Child Who Died At The Border

As the mainstream media spent the week fact-checking Donald Trump’s string of State of the Union prevarications, there is one feature from Tuesday night’s speech not getting enough attention.

In addition to joining other female lawmakers dressed in white in solidarity, three Democratic representatives complemented their attire with pins displaying the picture of a seven-year-old Guatemalan asylum seeker who died in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody.

Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), and Ilhan Omar (Minn.) honored Jakelin Caal Maquin, the first of two children to succumb to illness in U.S. custody.

Jakelin Caal Maquin fell ill and died on December 8.

She was buried Christmas day in her hometown of Raxruhá, Guatemala.

Her death, and then of Felipe Gómez Alonzo, has motivated Felipe González Morales, the United Nations special rapporteur on migrants’ human rights, to send U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a formal complaint and request for an in-depth independent investigation.

González said in an interview with The Guardian:

“Detention of children has such a severe impact on them that we have repeatedly warned of the risks. When a person, especially a child, is in the custody of a state, that state has to ensure their rights. States have an obligation to care for migrants who arrive at the border, they cannot treat them as animals in inhuman [sic] conditions. I’m not saying this happened in this case, but the US has a duty in this regard.”

He added:

“I want to make sure that judges and public attorneys carry out the investigation fully in an independent manner without any pressure from the immigration authorities. An internal CBP inquiry would not be satisfactory.”

In addition to those cases, an Office of Inspector General (OIG) report published last month states health department officials estimate “thousands of separated children” were placed in its care prior to a June court order requiring the reunification of 2,600 other children.

Not only did the U.S. government separate thousands more children from their parents than previously thought; it was separating them before April 2018 when authorities admitted to its child separation policy, which DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen initially denied.

Now the administration claims it’s too much work to reunify these children with their rightful families.

Jallyn Sualog, deputy director of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, said reviewing 47,083 cases from between July 1, 2017 and the June 2018 court order would take eight hours each, requiring 100 employees working up to 471 days.

According to a recent Associated Press (AP) report, the administration is going to leave the children with sponsor families with whom they were placed because of the “extraordinary effort to reunite what may be thousands of migrant children who have been separated from their parents.”

They are defending this position by citing the emotional harm the children would be subjected to removing them from sponsor families’ care.

Health and Human Services Department’s (HHS) Jonathan White, responsible for reuniting asylum-seeker children with their parents, said in a court filing late Friday:

“It would destabilize the permanency of their existing home environment, and could be traumatic to the children.”

White cites his prior experience as a social worker in his credentials.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Immigrants’ Rights Project deputy director, Lee Gelernt, commented:

“The Trump administration’s response is a shocking concession that it can’t easily find thousands of children it ripped from parents, and doesn’t even think it’s worth the time to locate each of them.” 

No matter how we try to explain it away, we are running concentration camps at our Southern border.

Those on whom we are inflicting this torture will have to live with the repercussions for the rest of their lives.

As a nation, so will we.

Kudos to Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, and Omar for ensuring this does not become normalized.

This is not normal.

Image credit: Julissa Arce via Twitter

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, Liberal Nation Rising, and Medium.