Is this who we are now? by @BloggersRUs

Is this who we are now?

by Tom Sullivan

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) outside former Walmart in Brownsville, TX. Office of Refugee Resettlement facility may house hundreds of children separated from parents at border. Note blacked-out windows.

On Saturday, I wrote about the Trump Department of Justice policy of separating children from their parents when detained at the U.S. border. An unknown number of immigrants with children have fled dangerous conditions in their home countries and arrive at the U.S. southern border to seek asylum. Prosecuting asylum seekers for illegal entry violates U.S. and international law. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017 upheld a ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California that the federal government's detention policy violated the Flores Agreement on the detention, release, and treatment of children in immigration custody. That case originated under the Obama administration.

So as a deterrent to immigrants, arresting asylum seekers for prosecution and warehousing their children separately is the new policy of the Trump DOJ. They simply transfer the newly created unaccompanied minors from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody (Department of Homeland Security) to the Office of Refugee Resettlement under the Department of Health and Human Services.

Sunday night, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) visited a warehousing facility in Brownsville, TX. The repurposed Walmart with blacked-out windows houses an unknown number of children. The Department of Homeland Security, Merkley says, has prohibited the press and members of Congress from inspecting its facilities. Merkley posted a Facebook Live video of the attempted visit.

From the Oregonian:
Merkley's video, which had more than 435,000 views late Sunday night, cast a spotlight on new immigration policy. On May 7, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the U.S. would begin prosecuting anyone trying to enter the country illegally, including asylum seekers.

Families would be split up in such cases, with adults sent to jails and children placed in the custody the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a unit of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The facility Merkley visited is operated by Southwest Key Programs, a nonprofit which according to its website runs 27 shelters for immigrant children in Texas, Arizona and California.

The senator was made to wait at the door, which had its glass panes blacked out, while an employee tried to track down a supervisor. Police arrived just as a supervisor came outside. The supervisor said he was not authorized to discuss the issue, and Merkley was eventually asked to leave.

"The reason why I came is this new policy that the attorney general has in place of families that are waiting for the adjudication of their application for asylum in the U.S., and the children are being separated," Merkley tells police officers in the video.

Politico reports that the policy change is part of the "shock and awe" tactics preferred by top White House policy aide Stephen Miller. The American Civil Liberties Union has already filed a class-action lawsuit in San Diego on behalf of a Congolese woman whose 7-year-old daughter was being held somewhere in Chicago even before the policy change:

Two DHS officials said they had not seen any legal analysis making the case for the new prosecution strategy before Sessions announced it in May — a standard part of rolling out policy.

“In a normal administration, you make an analysis of the law and the policy change,” said one of the DHS officials. “The notion is to reduce litigation around it.” This person added: “It’s not clear to me that any of that foundational legal work has been done.”


Shelters for unaccompanied minors, which are overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services, historically have been geared more toward teenagers, who came into the country alone, and who can live in dorm-like settings – not to children who need cribs, formula, help getting dressed or going to the bathroom. Advocates worry about the length of time these children could be held in custody away from their parents, as well as the difficulty of reuniting families held in different parts of the country.

A backup plan exists to help with the resources: the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement maintains 1,218 reserve beds and could open temporary facilities, including one in Homestead, Fla. If the department exceeds its $1.3 billion budget to house unaccompanied minors, it may need to transfer funds from other parts of its budget, which it’s done in the past.

“There’s no way HHS has the capability to handle this kind of influx of children, especially small children,” said Lee Gelernt, an ACLU attorney representing the plaintiffs in the San Diego case. “I think it’s only going to get worse.”

It's already worse. "This isn’t zero tolerance," Merkley says in the video, "this is zero humanity."

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