Baby Jails

Ken AshfordImmigration and Xenophobia, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Rachel Maddow last night, trying ot read an AP breaking story about detention centers for babies:

Former Trump Campaign Chair Corey Lewandowski during a discussion about a mother separated from her child with Down’s Syndrome:

These people have no morals — don’t let them tell you otherwise.  And Trump has plenty of supporters who blame…. the parents.

This is the story that Rachel Maddow could not convey:

Trump administration officials have been sending babies and other young children forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border to at least three “tender age” shelters in South Texas, The Associated Press has learned.

Lawyers and medical providers who have visited the Rio Grande Valley shelters described play rooms of crying preschool-age children in crisis. The government also plans to open a fourth shelter to house hundreds of young migrant children in Houston, where city leaders denounced the move Tuesday.

Since the White House announced its zero tolerance policy in early May, more than 2,300 children have been taken from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, resulting in a new influx of young children requiring government care. The government has faced withering critiques over images of some of the children in cages inside U.S. Border Patrol processing stations.

Decades after the nation’s child welfare system ended the use of orphanages over concerns about the lasting trauma to children, the administration is starting up new institutions to hold Central American toddlers that the government separated from their parents.

“The thought that they are going to be putting such little kids in an institutional setting? I mean it is hard for me to even wrap my mind around it,” said Kay Bellor, vice president for programs at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which provides foster care and other child welfare services to migrant children. “Toddlers are being detained.”

Bellor said shelters follow strict procedures surrounding who can gain access to the children in order to protect their safety, but that means information about their welfare can be limited.

The past 24 hours on this issue has been insane.  Kirstjen Nielsen was heckled by protesters at Mexican restaurant.  Other diners applauded them.  Members of Congress have weighed in (all “horrified” but a few people trying to justify). There are a few bills out there — the ones Trump supports tie fixing family separation with “the wall”.

Jeff Sessions is feeling the heat from his church:

The Methodists, who are known for being fairly chill in the grand scheme of organized religion, are apparently considering kicking Attorney General Jeff Sessions out of their church. Turns out they don’t much like the administration’s policy of separating families at the border—or the way the attorney general has tried to defend his policies using the Bible.

More than 600 Methodist clergy and church members from across the country have signed a letter asking Sessions’ pastors to bring formal church charges against him—such as child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination, and the dissemination of false doctrine (for example, using Romans 13 to justify the family separation policy).

The letter, sent on Monday, is addressed to Rev. Sterling Boykin in Alabama and Rev. Tracy Wines in Virginia, and it does not mince words.

“We write to you, Mr. Sessions’ pastors, copying his District Superintendents and Bishops, in the hopes that you will, as members of our connectional system, dig deeply into Mr. Sessions’ advocacy and actions that have led to harm against thousands of vulnerable humans,” the letter reads. “As members of the United Methodist Church, we deeply hope for a reconciling process that will help this long-time member of our connection step back from his harmful actions and work to repair the damage he is currently causing to immigrants, particularly children and families.”

The undersigned cite “the severe and ongoing impact of several of his public, professional actions” as the impetus for this unusual call to action. Sessions has been an active member of the United Methodist Church for many years, serving as a Sunday School teacher in his home church, Ashland Place United Methodist Church in Mobile, Ala., and also representing them as a delegate to the annual Methodist General Conference. It’s likely his leadership roles in the church and the frequent invocation of his faith as a political motivating force pushed the clergy and church members to bring these charges.

As Vox reports:

Technically, anyone within the Methodist Church can bring charges against any other member, and charges can theoretically lead to expulsion from the church community following an ecclesiastical trial. In practice, however, charges are extremely rare, especially against laypeople, and almost never move beyond the level of individual mediation at a local church level.

According to the United Methodist Church’s news service, the next step is for Sessions’ pastor and district superintendent to try and resolve the complaint using “pastoral steps.” It’s unclear exactly what that would look like, but if they fail, the church would continue following steps laid out in its Book of Discipline toward expulsion.

Rev. David Wright, a Pacific Northwest Conference elder and organizer of the effort to charge Sessions, told the church’s news service that he “really never would have thought” he would find himself working on charges against a fellow Methodist, much less a lay person.

“I hope his pastor can have a good conversation with him and come to a good resolution that helps him reclaim his values that many of us feel he’s violated as a Methodist,” he said. “I would look upon his being taken out of the denomination or leaving as a tragedy. That’s not what I would want from this.”

And more bad news keeps coming out about what we’re doing.  We are learning, for example, that Trump’s zero-tolerance policy also quite expensive.


The cost of holding migrant children who have been separated from their parents in newly created “tent cities” is $775 per person per night, according to an official at the Department of Health and Human Services — far higher than the cost of keeping children with their parents in detention centers or holding them in more permanent buildings.

The reason for the high cost, the official and several former officials told NBC News, is that the sudden urgency to bring in security, air conditioning, medical workers and other government contractors far surpasses the cost for structures that are routinely staffed.

It costs $256 per person per night to hold children in permanent HHS facilities like Casa Padre in Brownsville, Texas. And keeping children with their parents in detention centers like the one run by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement in Dilley, Texas cost $298 per resident per night, according to an agency estimate when it awarded the contract for the facility in 2014.

At those prices, the additional cost to operate a 400-bed temporary structure for one month at capacity would be more than $5 million. The average stay for separated kids is nearly two months.

Up until today, Trump didn’t seem to have an end game for the inhumane policy that is opposed by two-thirds of Americans. He’s continued to blame Democrats for allowing immigrants to “infest” the country; while in a closed-door meeting last night with congressional Republicans, he called on them to end family separation and “fix” the immigration system. He’s effectively boxed himself into a corner. “He doesn’t like this policy, and he knows it’s not helping him,” a Republican who’s spoken with him said. “But he can’t get within him that this is a problem, and he needs to take ownership of it.”

And this morning, it appears that Trump blinked. Nielsen has drafted an executive order:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has drafted an executive action for President Donald Trump that would direct her department to keep families together after they are detained crossing the border illegally. She was at the White House where Trump told reporters he would be “signing something” shortly.

The effort to end what has become a major crisis for the Trump administration was outlined by two people familiar with Nielsen’s thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the effort before its official announcement.

It’s unclear exactly what the president might be supporting, but he said he would be signing something “in a little while.”

“We want to keep families together,” he said.

The effort would mark a dramatic departure for an administration that has been insisting, wrongly, that it has no choice but to separate families apprehended at the border because of the law and a court decision.

Nielsen, the president and other officials have repeatedly said the only way to end the practice is for Congress to pass new legislation, though both Democrats and some Republicans have said the president could reverse it with a simple phone call.

The news in recent days has been dominated by searing images of children held in cages at border facilities, as well as audio recordings of young children crying for their parents.

One of the people familiar with Nielsen’s thinking said she believes there is no certainty that Congress will act to fix the separation issue.

Asked about the possibility of an executive order on immigration, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters: “We’ll keep you posted. When we have an announcement to make, we’ll make it.”

Trump had tweeted earlier Wednesday that he was “working on something.”

Trump, if he signs something, will no doubt want to take credit for a crisis that he (NOT Democrats) created.

UPDATE:  Aaron Blake at the Washington Post writes about Trump and Nielsen’s “embarrassing surrender”:

The Trump administration insisted it didn’t have a policy of separating children from their parents at the border. It said that it was merely following the law. And it said “Congress alone can fix” the mess.

It just admitted all that was nonsense — and that it badly overplayed its hand.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who on Sunday and Monday insisted this wasn’t an actual a policy and that the administration’s hands were tied, will now have to untie them as the White House will reverse the supposedly nonexistent policy. Amid an outcry from Senate Republicans and a threat to fix the problem themselves— just as the White House had demanded — the Trump administration has drafted an executive action to change the policy and keep families united.

It’s at once an admission that the politics of the issue had gotten out of hand and that the administration’s arguments were completely dishonest. Virtually everything they said about the policy is tossed aside with this executive action. It’s the political equivalent of waving the white flag and the legal equivalent of confessing to making false statements. Rather than letting Congress rebuke it, the White House is rebuking itself and trying to save some face.

The administration will argue that this is merely a stopgap decision that will still be subject to legal review. It will even cast doubt on the idea that the executive action will stand — instead arguing that it’s worth halting the policy while the courts decide. But that’s decidedly the opposite of the approach the administration had said was demanded by the situation for the last several days.

Here’s a sampling:

  • “Congress and the courts created this problem, and Congress alone can fix it. Until then, we will enforce every law we have on the books to defend the sovereignty and security of the United States.” — Nielsen
  • It’s not a policy. Our policy at DHS is to do what we’re sworn to do, which is to enforce the law.” — Nielsen
  • The only [other] option is to not enforce the law at all.” — Nielsen
  • “I don’t want children taken away from parents. And when you prosecute the parents for coming in illegally, which should happen, you have to take the children away. Now we don’t have to prosecute them, but then we’re not prosecuting them for coming in illegally.” — Trump
  • “You can’t do it through an executive order.” — Trump

This is such a course-reversal that, just two days ago, the White House was saying it wasn’t even onboard with Congress passing a stand-alone bill to fix the problem — dismissing such efforts as a “Band-Aid” that didn’t deal with core immigration problems. Today, it is gladly applying the “Band-Aid” itself — and in a way it insisted it couldn’t.

Rarely has the White House so tacitly and unmistakably admitted to overplaying its hand. And rarely has it so blatantly copped to its own dishonesty about its actions. Nielsen, in particular, has a lot of explaining to do. But this whole thing is an extremely ugly chapter. And it makes clear that, from Day One, this was a political gambit to force an immigration bill through. It didn’t work.

I’m with Blake on this, although given the volatility of this administration, I won’t call it a surrender under the deed is signed, sealed, and delivered.

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